Living or visiting Miami Beach, tow trucks prowling for cars illegally parked on the streets and lots of the city is a common sight. No motorist who dares test Miami Beach's parking laws is safe from the hooks of Beach Towing and Tremont Towing (which has its own faux reality show on TruTV called South Beach Tow), the only firms allowed to hitch vehicles in the city for several decades.
For this week's cover story, New Times has pored through a year's worth of complaints filed with the Miami Beach Parking Department, scoured 81 police incident reports for their tow yards, and checked out a half-dozen open lawsuits filed against Tremont and Beach. The records show how both firms use shady tactics to snag hundreds of cars per week and how city officials are cool with it.
See also: Beware of South Beach Tow Companies
The firms have built a notorious reputation for holding cars for ransom, forcing thousands of motorists each year to pay hundreds of dollars to get their rides back. It's quite the lucrative city-sanctioned racket. In the first six months of 2013 alone, both companies reported $1.2 million in revenues just from cars towed off public property. That's close to 5,000 cars towed between January and June. Miami Beach city government's cut: $150,300.
Officials for both Beach Towing and Tremont declined to answer questions for the story through their attorney and city hall lobbyist Rafael Andrade, who provided New Times with the following written statement:
Below is my only "on the record" response to all of the questions presented. It is respectfully requested that my statement be included in its entirety and without any edits. Based upon past articles and the questions presented, it appears that the story is going to be an unfair, biased, and misinformed attack on the Miami Beach towing industry and my clients. Since a "cover story" is afforded ample print space, I trust that you will honor my request and print the following unedited statement:
"The towing industry in the City of Miami Beach provides necessary and essential services that promote the health, safety and welfare of the community by removing vehicles that pose a hazard to traffic and pedestrians, vehicles involved in police investigations, and vehicles that illegally park in areas that require residential parking permits. On-street parking in the City is insufficient and residents actually pay a fee for a permit that allows them to park in designated areas. To not enforce illegal parking in these areas would be unfair and adversely affect our residents' quality of life. Similarly, towing is necessary for the orderly operation of private businesses. Those that illegally park and interfere with the use of someone else's property have no right to that space. The towing companies exercise caution and diligence before a vehicle is removed and spend considerable resources to investigate all claims and allegations against them. Most are determined to be without support. When a mistake is made, it is corrected. In November 2012 the City Commission adjusted the towing rates for the first time since 2004 based on CPI. That process was thoroughly debated at countless public meetings and was completely transparent. Bottom line, vehicles are towed due to criminal or civil violations of the law, and the towing industry simply provides a necessary, albeit at times unpopular, public service to the City and private businesses within the City."
Andrade's response notwithstanding, anyone parking in Miami Beach is doing so at their own peril: Beware the tow trucks.
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.