Condo residents angry over towed cars

Homeowner says his van was unjustly towed

  • Stan Karloff, a retired pastor, displays his valid car registration. He lives at the Stoney Beach Condominiums in Anne Arundel County. Last week, his Dodge Caravan was missing from in front of his house. After calling the police, he discovered it had been towed. The tow company said the registration was expired - it wasn't, according to Karloff - but he still had to pay $220 to get his car back. Turns out, several of his neighbors have had their cars towed under false pretences recently. According to the managment company, 87 cars have been towed in the last month.
Stan Karloff, a retired pastor, displays his valid car registration.… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
December 24, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Stanley Karloff, a grocery store worker and retired minister, walked out of his Pasadena condominium earlier this month and was startled to find that his 2007 Dodge Caravan minivan was missing. After checking with his wife to see if she was driving it, he called 911, only to get some bad news: The car had been towed.

MRA Property Management Inc., the agent for Stoney Beach Condominiums, a sprawling development with views of the Patapsco River, recently instituted a zero tolerance policy for those violating the development's parking policy, which has resulted in 87 "illegally parked" vehicles being towed from the development since October. According to a letter from management to residents, the board of directors "have struggled for years to find a fair and reasonable parking policy for the community."

The mass towing has upset a number of neighbors, and the homeowners association has offered an appeals process to deal with it. In Karloff's case, his car was towed on a claim that the registration was expired. While one of his registration stickers was missing from his license plate, his car was actually legally registered at the time of the tow.

Karloff, who has lived with his wife, Terry Karloff, in their condo for 14 years, claims his minivan was towed on Dec. 8 because of a missing license plate sticker. According to his Maryland Vehicle Administration registration certificate, the minivan's registration doesn't expire until Dec. 31. But the "12" sticker that's supposed to be affixed to his license plate had somehow disappeared. Karloff said he's not sure what happened to it.

He had to pony up $220 to get his vehicle back from the impound lot less than five miles from his home. He's contacted a lawyer, hoping to recoup the tow charge and to change the policy of the management company. Overall, Karloff thinks both the management company and the towing company have teamed up.

"That's really grabbing the money while it's there," said Karloff. "I don't think it's right. I don't want any other compensation. I just want to get my money back and to change the rules to make them fair."

Rayna Butler, a representative for MRA Property Management Inc. declined to comment, saying in an e-mail, "We make no decisions and act only on the Board of Directors instructions/directions on behalf of the entire Stoney Beach Community."

No one from the board responded to a message seeking comment, but in a letter to homeowners, management denied that it was making money from the tows.

"Contrary to what some residents think, MPA and the Board of Directors DO NOT get any sort of payment related to the vehicles that are towed."

Buel Young, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, which licenses drivers and registers cars, verified that Karloff's registration was valid at the time of the tow.

Young said a condominium association has the right to have a car towed off its private property if it's not registered -- just as a police officer can order a car towed from a public street for an expired registration. According to state law, Young said, vehicles are required to have registration stickers on the license plates.

Meanwhile Karloff, who has made several trips to Nigeria and Zimbabwe to donate medical supplies as an ordained minister at the Calvary Chapel International Worship Center in Severn, said he's miffed that he was made to "feel like a criminal." He wasn't the only resident upset when his car was towed. The recent tows at Stoney Beach have apparently raised objections among some residents.

Management said in the letter that it plans to establish a "Towing Hearing Committee" to "review the circumstances of those residents who have had their vehicle legally towed for violating the parking policy, but feel that they should be given special consideration for some particular reason."

The letter says because the towing company cannot be expected to issue refunds, any reimbursement would come from the condo board's community funds.

"This is your money and you get to decide if you want to give it to a resident who didn't follow the rules and had their vehicle towed."

Mc-N-Mc Transportation & Towing has been contracted with MRA to tow cars from the property for about three years, said a man who said his name is Nelson and described himself as an owner of the towing company. Nelson declined to give his last name.

In a phone interview, Nelson said tow companies have no mechanism -- nor are they required -- to double- check violations with the police or the MVA before towing a car. Nelson said the towing company is required to report the tow to the police, as it did in this case. Nelson added that it's the responsibility of the vehicle owner to affix the proper stickers and tags on their vehicles.

"If you have rules, and rules that govern that property, if you don't like the rules, then go to the meetings," Nelson said. "We're only doing what we're asked to do."

Nelson said parking is a "major issue" at the development, and management started a stricter policy on parking violations to try to solve it. He said violations included cars affixed with fraudulent dealer license plates and fake resident parking passes. Previously, management had instructed his tow company to issue warning stickers on the cars in violations, giving them a 48-hour notice to fix the infraction.

Anne Arundel County Police spokesman Justin Mulcahy said the towing company reported the tow to county police, as required by law. And the company is licensed in the county. Because the condos are on private property, it's a civil matter that would not involve the police.

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