Maria Ceballos was getting ready for bed at her home in Berkeley Village Mobile Home Park last week when her son walked into her room.
His car was towed.
Ceballos learned that this was because the required permit sticker was visible on the car’s dashboard – but not affixed to the windshield.
“The tow driver was quite aggressive,” Ceballos said in Spanish through a translator. “He said, ‘Why don’t you put this sticker on the windshield like you should?
When the tow company finally brought the car back, Ceballos said it was damaged.
“I feel like I can’t even sleep because I have to keep an eye on our cars to make sure,” said Maria Gonzalez, another resident of Adams County Mobile Home Park. interpreter.
The Berkeley Village experiences are hardly an exception for mobile home residents in the Front Range. Towing companies have been running wild in those communities for years, homeowners and housing advocates said, towing cars for minor violations or, sometimes, for no apparent reason. Lawmakers are hoping that a beefed-up towing task force will regulate these companies more closely — and further legislation may be on the way.
“I’m not aware of any park where residents aren’t bothered by this,” said Rep. Eddie Hooton, a Boulder Democrat who led the 2021 towing bill.
“They don’t warn you, they just tow”
When it comes to parking in mobile home communities, the property owner has to decide everything. Unlike other residential streets, the streets in these parks are considered private property.
The designation gives park owners the opportunity to enforce all kinds of regulations that residents argue could be applied arbitrary or inconsistently.
Tom McCurdy remembers a time in his Lafayette mobile home park when people were allowed to park on both sides of the road without any problems. But now the park has a rule that after 8 pm street parking is outlawed with the justification that roadways need to be cleared for fire lanes.
McCurdy said the park would rent a space down the street to residents for a fee. Option 2: Park outside the community and walk all the way inside. Otherwise, be prepared to tow.
“How do the roads turn at night?” McCurdy said he has seen service vehicles such as trucks repairing furnaces or refrigerators trampled for violating the rule. “They don’t suddenly shrink at 8 pm”
Gonzalez, a Berkeley Village resident, said the towing issue is simple: “They take your car because they want to.”
He had just got a new car two months ago, and had not had a chance to acquire the required permit sticker, she said. A week later, she woke up at 3 a.m. and saw a tow truck carrying her car. It was sitting in his driveway.
“That’s why this park is like this,” he recalled telling the driver to him. “Because of garbage like you.”
Gonzalez has had to make a rule for his house: Visitors must leave by 10 p.m. or else they’re at risk.
“You’re always worried, if you have visitors, how much money will you have to pay to take their car off the lot,” said Ceballos, a Berkeley Village resident. “It’s really disappointing.”
Cars will often be moved in the middle of the night, making it even more difficult for owners to object, said Cesia Guadarrama, associate state director of 9to5 Colorado, an economic justice organization, and a Berkeley Village resident.
“The rules are so arbitrary,” she said. “They don’t warn you, they just tow.”
Berkeley Village owner Shawn Lustigman said he doesn’t know how the towing company works, only that they have an agreement with them to tow the cars.
“I don’t know when they come and when they leave,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him directly.”
The parking issue comes down to safety, Lustigman said. Roads should be clear so that fire tenders can reach homes in case of emergency.
“I don’t want my tenants to lose $300,” he said. “I don’t make money on this. I’m trying to keep my tenants happy.”
According to Public Utilities Commission records, Colorado Auto Recovery, a towing company contracted by Berkeley Village, received 23 consumer complaints between July 2020 and June 30, 2021. In two cases, after regulators found that the company was not in compliance with the law, $235.45 was returned to customers.
The company also has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, with 19 complaints closed in the last three years and 11 complaints in the last year. Company representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Lack of notice and inconsistent enforcement
Towing rules — and the subsequent tow — are a common issue in parks around Colorado, housing advocates say.
One piece is inconsistent enforcement. A certain parking rule may exist, but it is not normally enforced, leading residents to believe that “it’s no big deal,” said Michael Peirce, project manager for the Colorado Coalition of Built Home Owners. he said.
“And then all of a sudden they’re being towed,” he said.
Someone might have a little car parked on the grass. Or a car will be parked at a distance of two and a half feet from the driveway entry instead of the required three feet.
“There’s this general issue of a lack of charitable notices,” Pearce said. “Someone could easily move the car – it would just be someone knocking on the door and saying, ‘Hey, your car is parked poorly or it’s blocking someone. But no notice is given. It’s a flat-out tow.”
Part of this may be just one power trip, said David Valleau, Mobile Home Initiative lead with the Colorado Poverty Law Project.
“It’s another way to intimidate and intimidate residents,” he said.
Tors aren’t the only inconveniences—they can be financially disastrous for residents.
Gonzalez said he had visitors to the New Mexico town last year, and he was hit with a $290 bill for having his car on the road. Others reported charges in excess of $300—even if the car was only sitting around for a lot of minutes.
“It can very quickly sap a person’s financial capabilities,” Pearce said. “Getting hit with a towing bill can mean you can’t rent or make another bill that month.”
Boulder legislator Hooton recognized these issues during the 2021 legislative session, when he pioneered the Vehicle Towing Consumer Protection Bill. HB21-1283 will soon add five new members to the state’s towing task force, including a member of the mobile homeowner community and a representative from the Colorado Attorney General’s office.
The bill also requires a sunset review of the Public Utilities Commission’s regulation of towing carriers and will look at whether a dispute resolution program established to address complaints between mobile home park owners and residents may be beneficial.
“I want to make sure that park owners or managers are not getting bribed for these tows,” Hooton said. “We would like to see more strict guidelines on what qualify as a non-consensual tow.”