CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - A Charlotte attorney wants to give the boot to predatory tow companies.
The city should enforce its own towing ordinance, which states signs warning drivers they'll be towed if they park in an certain parking space, be "clearly displayed," according to attorney Brad Smith.
A FOX 46 investigation found customers getting booted, and forced to pay $100 cash, at a parking lot where some signs are written in faded paint.
"If we want to remove this problem," said Smith, "probably the only thing to do is the city would have to in some way enforce this ordinance."
FOX 46 found private parking lots with signs warning drivers they will be towed. Several around the Queen City belong to Wheel Blockers, a company with more than two dozen complaints with the Better Business Bureau. FOX 46 reporter Matt Grant found the signs prominently posted, which is required by city ordinance.
But that's not the case behind the CVS on Sixth and Graham Streets in uptown.
FOX 46 found parking stoppers with Wheel Blocker's warnings written in faded pink paint. Some signs couldn't be read because they were covered by bushes.
"It's very confusing. You can't really tell where you can park," one customer said. "Without paying very close attention to what's on the ground, you have no idea who actually owns the parking space."
Smith, an partner with the law firm Arnold and Smith, says that would be a code violation.
"That's in violation of the ordinance and those places shouldn't be allowed to tow cars," said Smith. "When a bush grows up over a sign, it obscures the sign, which sort of flies in the face of the city ordinance that says the signs have to be 'prominently displayed.'"
Getting a boot can cost drivers more than $100. Smith says unclear warning signs, on private property, are largely ignored.
According to the city's ordinance, the signs must "clearly display" that a parking spot is "towing enforced" in red letters that must be at least one and a half inches tall and be on a contrasting white background.
The signs also must be "permanently installed" not less than three feet above the ground. The parking stoppers FOX 46 found were written in paint, which would not could as a permanent sign, Smith said.
Violators could be slapped with a $500 fine, according to the city ordinance, which labels the offense a misdemeanor. CMPD officials say they investigate potential violations when they receive a complaint.
Bottom line: double-check where you park.
"If there's a sign," said Smith, "don't park there."
If you've had a problem with any tow companies or if you've seen towing signs in parking lots that aren't clearly displayed, contact FOX 46's Matt Grant at 704-944-3342.