Cars Keep Getting Towed From This Spot in Miami Beach

Confusing parking spot
Confusing parking spot Photo by Meg O'Connor
click to enlarge (Right) No parking sign. (Left) Parkmobile sign. In the middle: A parking meter, but you'll get towed if you park there. - GOOGLE MAPS
(Right) No parking sign. (Left) Parkmobile sign. In the middle: A parking meter, but you'll get towed if you park there.
Google Maps
Sylvia Franca parked her Lexus outside the Naughty Rooster at 17th Street and Alton Road on a recent Friday afternoon. When she returned a short time later, the car was gone. To Franca, it didn't make sense that her car had been towed. She'd paid the parking fee using the code on the Parkmobile sign a few spaces up from her car, and there was even a parking meter where people could pay right next to her Lexus.

But as it turns out, the spot with no lines on the ground is actually a freight loading zone — Franca had missed the sign several paces back, much further away from her car than the parking meter.

Moments after a Miami Beach parking enforcement officer slapped a $23 ticket on Franca's vehicle on October 19, city officials contacted Beach Towing to take the car. The oft-criticized city contractor snagged Franca's vehicle, towed it to its lot just two minutes (.4 miles) away, then charged her $213 to get her car back.

Every year, thousands of people have their cars towed on Miami Beach, where Beach Towing and its competitor, Tremont, donate heavily to politicians so they can run a legal racket holding drivers' cars hostage. Dozens of complaints filed against the companies allege they pay people to watch lots and call them whenever a car they can tow is spotted.

"I think that sign is misposted on purpose, kind of like a trap sign," said Franca. "The sign that says it's a loading zone is way behind a Parkmobile sign, so people pass that sign, see the Parkmobile sign, and park; then they get their cars towed to Beach Towing, which is literally a block and a half away, and get charged hundreds of dollars for it."

click to enlarge Confusing parking spot - PHOTO BY MEG O'CONNOR
Confusing parking spot
Photo by Meg O'Connor
Employees of two nearby businesses say several cars are towed from that spot every single day.

"At least ten cars a day get towed out there," said Alberto Real, who works for Nutritional Power Center, a vitamin store right next to the spot where Franca was towed. "It's all day. They're so fast; they come within minutes and take you away. All day that's happening here."

Ani-L, general manager of the Naughty Rooster, gave a more conservative estimate but agreed that a number of cars get towed from that location every day.

"They need to do something about that sign," Ani said. "Either put the no-parking sign closer or move that parking meter further away. It's really confusing as it is; it's messed up. Every day, I see maybe three to five cars get towed from that spot."

While Miami Beach says Franca was rightfully towed, the city has voided the ticket after she complained since it's a tricky spot. However, Miami Beach has no plans to do anything to make it clearer the parking space is illegal.

"The mitigating factor is [not the signage but] the yellow curb, which identifies the parking space as a freight loading zone," said Melissa Berthier, a spokesperson for Miami Beach. "The curb paint is deficient, making it challenging to discern the difference in regulation."

Franca says Beach Towing demanded she pay in cash when she went to retrieve her car, even though Miami Beach's Towing Bill of Rights requires tow companies to accept at least two forms of payment. Franca was charged $140 for the hookup, $6 for the .4 mile the company dragged her car, $30 for the labor, $35 for an "admin charge," and $2 in tax, all in cash.

“Beach Towing accepts all forms of payment listed in the 'payment options' section of the Miami Beach Towing Bill of Rights, including having an on-site ATM, provided by a third-party vendor, which charges a maximum transaction fee of $3,” said Ralph Andrade, an attorney for Beach Towing.

Yet a wave of online reviews as well as one unlucky beachgoer who had his car impounded by Beach Towing and spoke with New Times outside the establishment, say that's not true.

Read Katherine Z.'s review of Beach Towing Service on Yelp Read Matt H.'s review of Beach Towing Service on Yelp
Marcus Valladares drove to Miami Beach from Hialeah for a job interview on Wednesday, October 31. When he came out of the interview, his car was gone. He looked around for a sign and called Beach Towing, which told him he could come pick up the car in person but had to pay with cash.

“They said cash only,” said Valladares.

Update: "Although the parking signage is legally sufficient, out of an abundance of caution, we have already added another sign to prevent future confusion," a spokesperson for the City of Miami Beach said in a statement emailed to New Times after this story was published. Also, the curb will be repainted.
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Meg O'Connor is a freelance journalist for Miami New Times. She moved to Miami from New York after earning a master's degree in investigative journalism from Columbia University. She previously worked for CNN's Investigative Unit.
Contact: Meg O'Connor