HOUSTON -- Each day and night, hundreds of drivers in Houston get towed because they parked where they shouldn’t have. 11 News analyzed the records for nearly 65,000 tows that took place between March and August this year and found the tow hot spots you should look out for.
The hot spots are often in areas where at night, people are heading to restaurants, bars or movie theaters.
People like Jonathan Salisbury. 11 News caught up with him as he walked along Westheimer near the slew of trendy restaurants and bars.
"It’s really hard to find a spot to park," he said.
On a nearby side street in the Cherryhurst neighborhood -- the 1600 block of California, to be precise -- 373 cars were towed in that six-month time period between March and August. That makes it No. 1 in the city for tows from a city street. The street is clearly marked with "No Parking" signs, complete with the car-and-wrecker tow symbol. But you have to look close at the hours: 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The No. 1 spot for tows from a private parking lot is in the 3900 block of Richmond. Records show 883 tows in six months from the lot there, which services a strip mall. The problem is, the lot is located right behind the big Edwards Cinema. To avoid paying at the parking garage adjacent to the theater, people park in the strip mall lot. The lot has signs at the entrances that say "CUSTOMER AND EMPLOYEE PARKING ONLY" and warn that violators will be towed. But that didn’t stop people when 11 News was there. Our cameras caught them parking in the lot then cutting across the street to the cinema.
Our cameras also caught what happens next: a tow truck swoops in and within seconds, hooks up and tows the violator away. It’ll cost the car owner far more than the few bucks they saved not paying to park in the garage.
11 News found examples of the high cost of getting towed at the No. 3 tow hot spot -- a private parking lot in the 1500 block of Lubbock. It’s on the edge of downtown, just a short walk from the Houston Municipal Court building.
Sam Elsaadi is one of many whose car was towed from that lot.
11 News caught up with him just as he discovered his car was gone.
"I’m pretty angry. If I wasn’t on TV I’d be cussing up a storm right now," Elsaadi said.
Elsaadi said he arrived there that morning to fight a traffic ticket at the nearby court building. He said he paid a parking attendant. But at lunch, he came out of court, drove his car to get food and then parked back in the lot.
He thought he was OK, but the lot manager said he wasn’t.
"He left at 12 o’clock and when he came back from lunch, he didn’t pay for his parking. And it tells you on the board," said Eligio Garcia of Ace Parking.
In fact, a sign visible from the lot says "DO NOT MOVE VEHICLE, NO IN & OUT PARKING."
But Elsaadi and others say they find all the rules confusing.
Another man who returned to the lot to find his car gone had parked after 12 p.m. The attendant was off-duty, which meant payments had to be made using an automated machine at the lot’s entrance.
"Can’t you see I made a payment," the man said in Spanish, holding up his receipt.
He had, but he’d also taken it with him. On the receipt, it says – in English – to display it face up on the dash.
To be fair, it did have the instructions in Spanish next to the machine on a sign. The sign had a total of ten lines of instructions, five each for English and Spanish.
Elsaadi and the other man were especially upset, because they’d paid to park in the lot. They just hadn’t followed the rules to the letter.
Their cars ended up at a storage lot three miles away. Elsaadi said he paid $191.36 to get his car back.
That adds up – 11 News found that in six months at just the lot on Lubbock alone, 461 vehicles were towed at a total estimated cost to car owners of over $88,000.
Other people who showed up to claim their cars couldn’t believe what it cost.
Jenny Fan Wiedemeir’s car was towed from a strip mall lot in The Montrose area near the Chinese consulate where she’d gone to pick up her father.
"I thought it was stolen," Wiedemeir said. When she got to the storage lot, she called HPD. Two officers showed up but said they couldn’t do anything for her. Who could?
"You definitely have options to get your money back," said Rich Robins, a Houston lawyer.
He takes cases to a special "tow court" at the Harris County Criminal Courts building, where a judge will hear the case and can order the tow company to pay back the money. The tow victim has to prove the tow was improper. Robins said the best way to do that is to provide photographs of the lot or street and show that there were not the proper signs.
"They’re supposed to be at each entrance way," said Robins.
But here’s the thing: at the top towing hot spots, there were signs. People just there parked anyway.
Maybe they wouldn’t if they knew how much it could cost them.
Maybe that should be on the signs.
This article was written using City of Houston data analyzed by Yang Wang, 11 News producer.