Bronx Assembly Member, Chair of Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection, mounts public campaign to put a stop to booting and towing of vehicles at local shopping center parking lots, a practice plaguing community for years
Dinowitz works with local NYPD precinct to warn shoppers, calls on city Department of Consumer Affairs to investigate repeat offenders amid reports of tow operators overcharging drivers, threats and intimidation, and demanding cash for vehicle pickup and "drop fees," in violation of city codes
In response to an alarming trend of predatory towing practices plaguing Bronx shoppers, Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Bronx) is mounting an aggressive public awareness campaign with local law enforcement and fellow elected officials to warn the community of the scam tactics and educate shoppers of city laws governing tow truck practices and fees. The Assembly Member is also calling on the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to investigate the most egregious recent cases, which have included the charging of fees in excess of legal limits, demands of cash payment, and even instances of threats and intimidation.
"These towing companies prey on innocent shoppers as they cross the street to go to the ATM or run a quick errand. Not only is this practice illegal, it also discourages shoppers from patronizing our local small businesses" said Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz. "Even for those who may have parked in the lots against the rules, there are still laws in place to protect them from these scams and they need to be enforced. That's why I'm calling on the city to investigate repeat offender towing companies and take steps to protect consumers from predatory practices."
This month, Assembly Member Dinowitz and Council Member Andrew Cohen (D - Bronx) wrote to DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas urging an investigation into multiple reports of "demonstrated predatory towing practices" by Bronx-based towers Riverdale Towing Associates, LLC.
According to the letter, Dinowitz's office has received multiple complaints from constituents over threatening and potentially illegal practices by the company and others at various locations around the community, including a Key Foods parking lot on Johnson Avenue and West 235th Street, and nearby Skyview shopping center. In one instance, a shopper felt sufficiently threatened by a tow truck operator that he called the police.
"To retrieve the car, we had to arrange to travel to the other side of the Bronx to a dilapidated and deserted parking lot between the Metro-North tracks and Webster Ave. The lot attendant was not able to accept credit cards. He called the towing company, and we had to wait for two gentlemen from the towing company to show up. Another towing victim from the Key Food lot was there as well.
As residents report, tow operators often idle in the vicinity of area parking lots waiting to prey on shoppers. At the Johnson Avenue lot, which provides 3-hour parking for customers at Key Foods and a dozen adjacent local businesses, tow operators will wait for shoppers to cross the street to go to the bank or other businesses not serviced by the lot, and begin booting or connecting the car to their trucks. The tow operators then wait for shoppers to return and charge them for the service.
The most frequent complaints lodged by shoppers involve operators demanding cash payment and overcharging for fees applied to the pickup of vehicles at towing lots, or for so-called "drop fees" charged to motorists to have their vehicles unhooked from the trucks. Under city laws, tow truck operators are required to accept at least two major credit cards. The city also limits fees to $125 plus tax for the retrieval of impounded vehicles and $62.50 plus tax for "drop fees." However, motorists report being charged as much as $136 for the latter service.
DCA offers consumers a formal complaint process against improper practices by licensed businesses. This includes a mediated settlement process with the business owner and the opportunity to recoup losses from the agency's DCA Trust Fund, which licensees are required to contribute to as part of their bonding and licensing with the city. DCA records accessed on the agency's website list Riverdale Towing Associates LLC as a licensed business with the city.
In addition to the letter to DCA, Assembly Member Dinowitz has been working with the NYPD's 50th Precinct to alert residents to the practice and collaborate on increased enforcement. Dinowitz also released a public statement last month warning motorists of the practice, which his office says has plagued the community "for years." Dinowitz also reports that his office has tried to directly engage towing companies, to no avail.
"As Chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee, I take my responsibility to protect consumers very seriously. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we need to ensure consumers are protected as they run their daily errands," concluded Dinowitz.