2012-09-14 / Top Stories

Towing Bad For Business

By Nicholas Briano

The towing practice occurs on a daily basis in Rockaway Commons. The towing practice occurs on a daily basis in Rockaway Commons. In a down economy where everyone is struggling to find a way to make ends meet, one popular Rockaway property has revisited a predatory but legal way to take your hard earned money.

The owner and manager of Rockaway Commons, located along Rockaway Beach Boulevard from Beach 84 Street to Beach 90 Street, has done just that. The group has once again contracted the services of Far Rockaway towing company B&M Towing to remove cars from the 220- space lot amidst what the tow company proprietor calls an outcry by store owners such as Key Food, CVS Pharmacy and Rainbow Shops, who requested it because of the lack of parking in the lot.

This is clearly not the case because at any given time, the lot of Rockaway Commons is rarely at capacity, even before the towing began several months ago. In addition, upon talking to the managers of these stores, they have all denied having requested the cars to be towed from Rockaway Commons. Furthermore, they said that none of them had any input in whether or not the towing would be authorized, such as CVS manager Michael Williams.

“Not at all,” he said when asked if he specifically requested cars to be towed from the lot. “I was surprised. We’re losing customers.”

He continued to say that rarely is the lot at full capacity. The only time he has seen a problem parking in the lot is on the weekend during the summer, then maybe it becomes a problem.

“A day like today though,” he contended on a sunny Wednesday. “There’s no problem with parking, but local people are getting towed.”

Officials at Key Food also told The Wave that they don’t authorize the towing and never see the lot at capacity, but refused to get involved any further in the discussion.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder wrote a letter this week to the owner and Management Company of the Rockaway Commons in Rockaway Park, requesting that B&M stop removing vehicles from the shopping center “in order to foster a better community partnership and encourage local shopping.”

In the case of Rockaway Commons, it appears that B&M Towing is not breaking any laws. But the rusty white tow truck is ‘equipped’ with a driver that has been witnessed getting into verbal screaming matches with his “customers,” keeping the engine running for extended periods of time, blowing smog-ridden gray emissions into the air while he waits for his next target. When an individual leaves the lot, the driver can be seen snapping a picture of them doing so and immediately begins to tow the car. Only time limits the number of cars the tow truck can hook and unhook on any given day. Once the tow truck “hooks” your car the fee automatically becomes $62.50. If you are lucky enough to rescue your vehicle before he leaves the lot, then you are required to pay that $62.50 plus tax, termed a “drop fee.” If the car must be towed to the tow truck property for storage the price can quickly jump to more than $125 for the tow and another $75 removal fee from the yard to which your car was towed.

The great majority of vehicles towed are rescued by the owner prior to removal, resulting in just a drop fee. Typically, however, an argument will ensue and in many cases, officers from the 100 Precinct are forced to pull their already depleted resources from other calls to respond to a towing job at the lot. In all the cases the police attempt to diffuse the argument and alert the motorists that there is nothing they can legally do to assist them. It’s a private parking lot and a civil matter where no criminality is involved. An official source from the 100 Precinct was asked about the practice and he verified its immorality but also recognized its legality.

“Some refer to this as predatory towing,” a 100 Precinct official said this week. “A private property owner is within their rights to have vehicles towed from private property, although a questionable business practice, it is legal. However, the towing must be done under the strict rules of the Department of Consumer Affairs which mandates appropriate signage and standardized fees.”

The property with its 220 parking spaces is owned and managed by Mineolabased

Malachite Group, which manages retail properties across the eastern half of the country as far away as Texas. Questions to the property management office met much resistance with a promise of a call back that never came. Not a single person from Malachite Group would answer any questions.

“Customers who have a bad experience or who have to pay a fine are unlikely to return to use any local stores including those within the shopping center,” Assemblyman Goldfeder said this week. “While this practice may be legal, it is not in the best interest of the community or our local businesses and I urge the management company to rethink their enforcement policy for vehicles occupying their parking lot.”

The predatory practice, some motorists feel, goes a step further due to a lack of signage in the area except for a rusted and bent sign near the bus stop that indicates that the lot is private. It’s customary for most lots to post an abundance of signs that list the tow truck company’s name, address, Consumer Affairs number and fees. It’s a fair warning that is lacking in the lot. No such sign exists in Rockaway Commons and people try to use that in their defense, but often, again, to no avail.

“At a time when our economy is struggling we need to find every way we can to support buying local and encourage economic activity,” Goldfeder said. “The threat of having your car towed or having to pay an additional fee to have your car released is enough to keep shoppers out of our area.”

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