AUSTIN, Texas - An Austin affordable housing complex has ended its partnership with a towing company after 7 On Your Side first did a report involving frustrated residents.
"I’m not a lawyer, I don't know the legality of it, but frankly, it's caused a lot of people a lot of grief here," said Sage Berkley, during an interview in June.
Berkley was one of the Aldrich 51 residents that had his car towed multiple times.
FOX 7 later sat down with an Austin lawyer that was representing a resident from those apartments in a towing case at the time.
"It’s kind of the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but you don't want to be the squeaky wheel if you're a renter," said Curtis Fuller.
According to Fuller, landlords have a lot of power over tenants in Texas, and they are allowed to change a towing policy in the middle of a lease.
"They have to do so in compliance with the Texas Property Code," said Fuller. "They have to give at least 14 days' notice, either physically by hand or it has to be faxed, or it has to be taped to the inside of the door, or it can be mailed, and those are the only acceptable ways of providing notice to the tenants."
Fuller’s client, and residents FOX 7 heard from that had been towed, had either been accidentally double-parked, or weren’t registered properly due to having issues with the new online system.
"You could change policies and enroll everybody automatically at the beginning. And that way you only have to register new residents as they move in. If someone is a habitual double parker, you can give them warnings and then tow them," said Fuller. "Why let your residents be towed over and over?"
It appears the situation has since been resolved. A spokesperson for DMA Companies, which manages the property, told FOX 7 in an email last week the towing partnership ended the day the original story was aired.
A spokesperson for DMA Companies sent a statement to FOX 7 Austin via email:
"The safety, comfort, and enjoyment of our communities by our residents are of the utmost importance to Aldrich 51 and DMA Companies. We have heard Aldrich 51 resident concerns related to towing and vehicle registration and are implementing efforts to better combat some of the challenges that have been experienced in this community. Due to the uptick in car break-ins, vandalism, and non-resident vehicles and un-housed persons accessing the Aldrich 51 parking garage, a towing service was utilized to remove unauthorized vehicles. After further review, we believe that we can better serve our residents by increasing onsite security patrol in lieu of towing and immediately suspended towing efforts as the towing company’s tactics were more aggressive than we believed warranted. We are finetuning the onsite vehicle registration system to ensure residents can easily access and register their vehicles to follow property guidelines. With many people experiencing homelessness in the area, we believe the more robust security protocol we have implemented will help project a general presence of rule enforcement on property. We will regularly meet with residents to share feedback and solutions for onsite matters while continuing to work closely with our neighbors and community stakeholders to ensure our residents as well as the larger neighborhood can safely enjoy all the Mueller community has to offer."
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According to data FOX 7 obtained from the Austin Police Department, between January and May of this year, APD received 19 complaints about towing companies.
According to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, between 2020 and 2023, so far, 17 administrative orders have been issued to tow companies in Austin, usually resulting in a fine or license revoked.
Reasons listed include performing "an illegal tow" and performing a "non-consent, private property tow without legal authority."
According to TDLR, if a car owner finds their vehicle still in the process of being hooked up to a tow truck, they can keep their car without paying a charge.
If they return to the car, and it is already fully hooked up and ready for towing but has not left the parking lot, the owner may keep the car but must pay a drop fee. If the car has already been towed or booted, there should be a sign with a phone number the owner can call to find the car.
If the car has a boot attached, car owners should be able to call a telephone number listed on a warning sticker attached to the window.
The towing company must be able to provide a tow ticket with itemized charges. TDLR lists the maximum charges a vehicle owner can face depending on the type of vehicle.
Vehicle owners that feel their car has been towed or booted in error, or believe they were overcharged, can request a tow hearing within fourteen days of the tow.
According to TDLR, the towing or booting company "must provide consumers a notice that informs them of their right to a hearing and that identifies the justice court having jurisdiction" where consumers can file a request for a tow hearing.
Vehicle owners can also file a complaint on the TDLR website.
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