The Dunkin’ at West 230th Street and Broadway. The Skyview Shopping Center on Riverdale Avenue. Riverdale Crossing at West 238th Street and Broadway. All places people like to pick up lunch, breakfast, doughnuts or kosher food.
Over the past eight years, they are also remembered for being the places drivers say they’ve been ambushed after parking their vehicles in what might seem like a public parking lot. Instead, they learned the hard way those were indeed very private lots — lessons involving towing services swooping in minutes after anybody from the vehicles crossed the street to shop elsewhere.
What some might call “predatory” towing is not new to greater Riverdale. In fact, it seems like nothing has changed since the last spate of towings occurred before Covid-19. Now you can add the Key Food parking lot at West 235th Street and Johnson Avenue to the list. Again.
Over the past week, reporters and lawmakers alike have received complaints from angry shoppers who either had their cars towed from that lot, or were able to catch the tow operator before their vehicle was taken away.
“We had just gone to the pharmacy nearby,” said one person who was stuck in the lot with her husband after the car was towed, who would not give her name. “We came back and couldn’t find our car. We called the police and told them we think our car was stolen. After an hour, they arrived and told us to call the number on one of the signs.
“The officer said, ‘Believe me. Call before you go any further.’”
A worker from a nearby salon — which has parking rights to the lot — told the couple they were the sixth car towed that day, including one from a spot reserved for disabled drivers.
The couple took an Uber to the TKT Towing Collision lot on East 137th Street to retrieve their car. They were told by the tow company manager, doing business as Ethan’s Automotive Car Care towing service, they had to pay $285 in cash to release the car. Or they offered the couple to use the Zelle online money transfer service from their bank.
When the couple tried to use Zelle, her bank blocked the transaction.
“He told me, it’s cash or you don’t get your car,” the woman recalled the tow truck manager telling her.
Another person was “lucky” enough to catch the tow truck before it sped away with his car. He told The Riverdale Press he confronted the tow truck driver and paid the $75 drop fee. But not before he snapped a photo of the driver, whose tow truck resembled more of a pick-up.
When reached by The Press, a representative of the property owner Riverdale Center N.Y. LLC had one message for drivers: “If you leave the property, you will get towed. The signs are pretty clear.”
Those signs list Key Food, Eco Salon and several other nearby shops as places that have parking rights to the Riverdale Center lot. They also include warnings that drivers not doing business at those establishments will be towed by Ethan’s. The phone number was also included.
A representative of the towing service, who referred The Press to a person named Mike, was passionate and angry at the drivers who he says take advantage of the private lot as if it is their own.
“Would you like people to park in your driveway?” they asked. “The customers who really go to the stores have to park on the streets and pay the meters.
“Sometimes they do it in our face. There are signs there. They just want to park where they want to park. If you look at the streets on Johnson Avenue, they are empty near the lot.”
The representative would not explain why they charge $285 to release a car, or $75 for a drop.
The situation at the Key Food lot has not gone unnoticed by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. In his weekly email newsletter last week, he addressed what he called the “predatory” towing issue.
“Please use caution when parking in the lot, especially if you are intending to patronize other businesses aside from Key Food or other businesses listed on the posted signage,” Dinowitz said.
The lawmaker cited city law that states towing companies cannot demand cash and must accept at least two forms of credit cards. He also mentioned that towing fees are limited to $125 for removal from a private parking lot, and that a simple drop fee cannot be more than $62.50.