This is not the way Abi Gilman wanted to start her wedding weekend.
The women in her wedding party had their three vehicles towed during what was supposed to be a fun night of manicures, pedicures, drinks and dinner on Brady St.
It happened on the Thursday night before Gilman’s wedding on July 19. And it was late enough that they were not able to immediately get any of the cars back from the tow lot.
“We’re like, ‘You can’t keep them overnight. We have wedding things in the car. I’m setting up for my rehearsal dinner tomorrow,'” Gilman said.
The cost to free the cars from the private tow lot the next day: $338 each. That’s more than twice the $125 the City of Milwaukee’s lot charges.
Welcome to the world of private towing. The cars were never ticketed, nor did they need to be. They simply were dragged away from a parking lot outside Polished Nail Bar, 621 E. Brady St., where the seven women had spent about $600 that night as customers. The nail salon does not own the lot.
Had they driven away right after their nails were done, there would be no problem. But when Polished closed at 8 p.m., the women — the bride, her stepmother, four bridesmaids and a wedding reader — walked down the street to Casablanca restaurant, which they were told has the same owner as Polished. That made them think the cars would be fine where they were, but when they returned to the lot about 10 p.m., all three were gone.
There are 10 parking signs in the small lot. Some warn, “No parking, private property,” and others say, “Customer parking only,” so that’s a bit confusing. No hours are listed, but they all threaten towing.
A phone number on some signs led the women to Always Towing & Recovery at the dead end of Wells St. at N. 37th St. Their cars were there behind barbed wire and guard dogs.
I reached Mike Tarantino, general manager at the full-service towing operation. He said they have an arrangement with the owner of the Brady St. lot and others in Milwaukee and the surrounding area. The towing company monitors these lots and hooks the offenders, but not before giving the city information on each vehicle in case it was stolen.
“These are property owners that are exercising their right not to have vehicles parked illegally on their property,” Tarantino said. “It’s no different than someone parking in your driveway at your residence and getting out and walking away. When the business is closed, there is not supposed to be anything parked in the lot.”
But why charge so much for a tow?
“The city is funded by taxpayers,” Tarantino said. “We’re a private entity, and the cost of the service is based on what actually goes into the service as well as the time it takes to process. We’re right about in the middle for what private agencies charge.”
He said none of the money goes back to the property owners, but the city gets a $35 cut from each tow. The city tells me that’s to cover the cost of handling numerous inquiries from people who want to know where the heck their car went.
A new state law, part of a larger landlord-tenant bill, took effect July 1 and says vehicles can be towed from properly posted private lots, even if police or parking checkers have not ticketed them first. So the good news for this wedding party, if there is any at all, is that they didn’t have to pay a parking ticket, too.
Realtors, landlords and apartment associations pushed for the bill. Under the previous law, it took longer to get the car towed while waiting for the police or parking checker, and that sometimes gave the car owner time to drive away.
Ghassan Korban, commissioner of Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works, said he thinks the private towing fees are too high. City lobbyist Brenda Wood said, “One of our recommendations is that the fees the tow companies charge from these private lots should mirror the city rates.”
The law calls for “reasonable” rates. The state Department of Transportation is in the process of establishing rules regarding what those rates should be, along with proper posting of parking lots, Wood said, but that can take a while.
East side Ald. Nik Kovac said he receives lots of complaints about private towing. Some lots have become “tow mills,” he said. He planned to propose an ordinance in 2013 to bring down the private towing fees to city towing levels, but the state stepped in with its own legislation before he had a chance.
One of Gilman’s bridesmaids, Danielle Barr, spent much of that Friday trying to gather the paperwork necessary to get her car back, including hours at the DMV to obtain a replacement title.
“I guess what bugs us the most is that the girls that did our nails at Polished knew we were walking across the street to dinner, and no one at any point said you should move your cars,” Barr said. “They never said there was an issue with towing here.”
Gilman and her new husband, Spencer, who live in Milwaukee, contacted Polished when they returned from their honeymoon and asked if there was anything the business would do to reimburse their towing costs. Gilman said she had been a customer at Polished for years.
They wound up on a conference call with Polished owner Mazin Hamdan and Randy Roth, the boss at Endeavour Corp., which owns the lot. Voices were raised, but nothing was settled.
Neither Hamdan nor Roth returned my calls, though Tracy Skotarzak from Endeavour told the wedding reader in an email that no cars are towed from the lot during business hours, but this occurred well after that.
“There won’t be a refund,” she said.
Spencer Gilman said the lot owner doesn’t need to be so hard-nosed about customers who park there. He thinks the law should be changed to bring the police or city parking checkers back into the picture to validate an infraction before the vehicle is towed. And he wants the towing fees reduced.
In the meantime, it’s drivers beware. Your car may disappear faster than you can say, “I do.”
Call Jim Stingl at (414) 224-2017 or email at email@example.com