North Shore Towing nightmare: Hiring quality private parking companies
Every towing and patrol company isn’t created equal
Unless property managers want to deal with the hassle of random strangers and neighbors parking in their private lots all day, a private parking patrol company will be a necessity. But every company that can tow doesn’t necessarily do the best at being good at their jobs. Anyone who has lived on property that is not fenced-in or has a private garage has seen this happen before — the towing company inexplicably tows authorized cars, the towing company never seems to be around to tow unauthorized cars (who park in the lot for hours), the towing company claims it does 24/7 patrolling but you’ve never seen them on your security cameras, and the towing company suspiciously changes their rates when you come to pick up your car.
Now imagine dealing with all four instances at once. That about sums up the experience with Evanston’s own North Shore Towing company. But unless you know off-hand other people who use the service (or read Google and Yelp reviews), it’s much more difficult to know this kind of stuff before hiring any private towing company. Before hiring a parking patrol company and/or towing company, know that anyone can slap copywriting phrases like “highly trained and knowledgeable dispatch team” and “ready to help with any emergency” on their website. It is up to the property manager(s) and/or condo board to figure out who really is the “best” towing service around.
Tips for finding quality parking patrol companies
Skip the vague answers and get actual patrol numbers. If the customer service dispatchers claim that they do 24/7 patrol, ask for a ballpark number of how many times they can come by your property daily. In a world where everyone has a smartphone to text, take pictures, emails and/or call, this company should be able to provide some kind of documentation. If you cannot “see” their stops, just ask for a couple of times that they’ve driven by on any given day. Then check your surveillance cameras. If you’re really willing to take a risk, allow an unauthorized car in the lot. See how long it stays there. Unfortunately, this was involuntarily tested twice. A bright red truck stayed for three hours and another car stayed for one hour — not one patrol car went by to ask them to move. Both vehicles stayed there until the drivers were good and ready to leave.
Be prepared to not be put on a regular patrol schedule. If you’re really worried about authorized cars being towed, you may be better off with a call-only contract. Anytime you have 24/7 patrol, you take the risk that a private patrol company can tow your car that’s just outside “for a minute” or is a guest of someone who “didn’t think they’d come by.” In all fairness to towing companies, if they’re on a regular schedule where you know the exact time they’re coming by, that means nearby neighbors will also be able to take note of when they’re coming by. And guess what happens? They’ll know when the towing company left and when they have enough wiggle room to park in your lot. For that reason, the spontaneous patrolling makes sense — but only if the towing company is actually doing it. If you notice a pattern of owners complaining about not being able to get into their spots, start taking down popular times and days. If the towing company refuses to come by during these times, you are better off just calling the police to give them a ticket and terminating your agreement with the towing company until you can find one who is willing to work those hours.
Make sure the tow pricing matches the sign(s). Towing company rates should be consistent for the company, no matter where the property is. So imagine how confused one condo unit owner was when a car was towed from the property and he went to pick up the car with the specified amount on the sign. Although he didn’t deny that the car was in the wrong spot, the towing company made the pickup process more difficult by giving him a much higher rate and mentioned they “changed” their prices. This is an easy way for towing companies to hustle car owners.
If the automobile owners want their cars back and to not pay for overnight storage, they don’t have much choice but to pay whatever the price is. But that unit owner came back to the board to ask about the price change. Upon finding out that the rate was different, companies like North Shore had no excuse for why they hadn’t come back out to that property to update their signage, proving that the rates had indeed increased. This is when unit owners, condo boards and property managers need to work together to make sure the towing company stays honest. Be prepared to sporadically confirm that the rates are the same a year or two later, too. If it changes, so should their signs — immediately.
Never let the towing company be a substitute for surveillance cameras. If you hire a towing company that works with several independent contractors, be prepared for them to not always be in communication. Should an independent contractor claim that your “sticker wasn’t visible” or your “guest pass could not be seen,” unless you can prove it, it’s your word against theirs. Now if you know you had no business parking in someone else’s spot or didn’t have a sticker or guest pass to begin with, that’s your fault.
But if you are absolutely certain that you are parked correctly and there was no rational reason to tow your car, ask the condo board or property management company to send you camera footage of your car being towed. (Try to narrow down the time and day. Don’t just ask them to look at surveillance footage all week.) Try to get a good look at the tow truck driver, the towing company vehicle’s company name, the license plate of the vehicle, how your car is parked and where your authorization sticker is. If you can provide valid proof that your car was legitimately parked, you would have a much easier time should you decide to take the legal route. If the property does not have surveillance cameras, click a few time-stamped pictures of your own car beforehand.
Update your password occasionally, and make sure all authorized parties know what it is. It was quite the battle to have someone in my own parking spot and not know who to contact (as an owner before joining the board). The towing company would not authorize a tow without a password. The board had no idea what the password was. And the property manager was nowhere to be found. In your next board meeting, owners should ask the board who to contact if an unauthorized car is in their spot. And board members should contact the property management company to make sure they’re on the same page regarding what the password is. At no point should the password only be with one person who can disappear off the planet while the unauthorized car owner is just hanging out in your spot. The towing company will only know whatever authorized users they are given and the password that is supplied. All car owners in a private lot should know exactly who to contact to get an unauthorized car out of the lot. It should never be a guessing game.
Call in as a customer before you hire the towing company. As in any industry, there are some folks who apply for a job and act like you should roll out the red carpet because they answered the phone. You ask them to spell their name and get responses like, “Oh my gawd!” Or a hangup if the questions require them to do anything besides stare aimlessly out of a window. Or you get snippy responses like, “We ain’t security guards!” (Again, all responses from North Shore Towing, but they’re not the only tow truck company that does this.) Hiring the first towing company with cheap rates or one that is near your area is an easy way to end up regretting it later. A “respected” and “competent towing service” will want to make sure their dispatchers and office managers are top-notch. They will read customer surveys, they will “ask every customer to share written feedback about their experience” and they will read every response for improvements. They’ll also make sure their dispatchers provide basic professionalism. If you do a test call and get all attitude and little class, look elsewhere. Let them roll out the red carpets in their living rooms, not on your parking lot.
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