PUEBLO — There's a 30-day grace period to renew your car's registration in Colorado but with COVID-19, some officers aren't even writing tickets for expired tags right now.
While officers may be cutting drivers a break, some tow companies appear not to be doing the same.
Paula Mandarich is calling out RMA Towing after they took her daughter's car which was parked in of all places---her apartment complex.
"They (RMA) hooked it up and took off with it," Paula said. "They are very evasive. They don't talk to you. They get in there and they want to get out."
A tenant at the complex with no relation to Paula and her daughter said she witnessed the tow.
Emily Fair told News 5 over the phone that she heard the tow truck driver tell Mandarich's daughter that the car was being towed for expired tags.
"She went in and grabbed her tags and explained to them (RMA) that she had COVID and her tags are up to date and that she was unable to put the tags on," Fair said. "They just ignored her and didn't give her the option for a drop fee."
A drop fee is something all tow companies are supposed to offer any driver who shows up before the car is hauled away.
Here are the facts we've verified:
October 31, 2020: The car's tags expired (30-day grace period begins)
Nov. 2, 2020: Paula's daughter renews her car tags (Tags are now valid until Oct. 2021)
Nov. 18, 2020: Medical records confirm Paula's daughter was diagnosed with COVID-19
Dec. 1, 2020: On the 13th day of quarantine at home, the car was towed while the vehicle's registration was valid
Paula says her daughter had received the tags in the mail but didn't go outside to put them on as she was quarantining from being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Both Paula and her daughter went to RMA towing to retrieve the vehicle on Dec. 2.
"I asked the gentleman (at RMA) to explain why they would tow her when she had her paperwork and the sticker for her license plate and he said they have to be on the license plate so I didn't argue with him," she said. "I don't think that helps with anything."
When we questioned RMA over the phone last week about the tow, they told us the car was parked in a tow zone. However, both Paula, her daughter and an independent witness told us that was not true.
"That's completely untrue," Fair said. "She was parked in her assigned spot and her parking pass was in her window."
News 5 then followed up with RMA Towing via certified mail. We asked whether RMA took any pictures of where the car was reportedly parked and also offered them the chance to meet us out at the Evergreen Apartment Complex with Paula's daughter to show us exactly where it was parked.
RMA Towing has not responded to this request.
"What they are doing I feel is not fair and I'm sure they are legal (barely)," Paula said. "They go in the day before or the last day of the month and they check all the cars for when the license plates expire and if they expire the next day, they go in and tow them."
News 5 discovered there is no legal obligation for a tow company to give anyone a grace period for tags---COVID or not.
Also, unlike law enforcement, tow companies don't have computer software access in their trucks to know whether someone's registration is valid. We're told they simply go off the sticker on your car.
It's not necessarily uncommon for tow truck drivers to take advantage of this "legal loophole" as some drivers have renewed their registration and are simply just waiting for their tags in the mail.
A few years ago, News 5 profiled a case where a Colorado Springs woman had her car towed out of her own carport for expired tags. Further research by News 5 confirmed the tags were valid, but the driver didn't have the time to put them on her car as she was spending time with her husband who was under hospice care.
Circling back to RMA Towing, the Better Business Bureau has given this tow company an "F" rating.
"I think what bothers me the most is the time we're in," Paula said. "People are losing their jobs. People are getting COVID-19. Tensions are high, people are upset and you would think that people would be a little more heartfelt."
Do you believe you have been illegally towed?
You should contact the Public Utilities Commission here.
Tips to protect yourself from tow companies:
(1) If you arrive before the tow truck driver takes off, the driver is supposed to offer you a drop fee which is significantly less than what it would cost you to get your car out of impound.
(2) If possible and without causing a disturbance, take pictures or record video of the situation.
(3) If you believe your car was taken illegally, immediately notify the Public Utilities Commission. You can also contact the Colorado Attorney General's Office at 720-508-6000 or your local Better Business Bureau office.
FAQ's and Transparency Report:
Q: What apartment complex did this tow occur at?
A: Evergreen Apartment Homes in Pueblo
Q: Can tow companies legal come onto private property and take your car?
A: Yes. Many apartment complexes and neighborhoods under an HOA have agreements with tow companies. You should refer to your lease or HOA declarations for more information.
Q: How many times did News 5 reach out to RMA Towing for comment?
A: Twice. We spoke with RMA via telephone last week and also followed up with a clarification inquiry via certified mail.
Q: Is there a way to prevent tow companies from taking cars solely for expired tags?
A: Lawmakers would have to pass legislation requiring tow companies to either follow the 30-day grace period allowed by the DMV, or perhaps require tow companies to verify a car's registration is valid prior to towing it. This may be able to be done through police dispatch or by placing a 24-hour tow warning sticker on a car to allow the owner notice to provide proof of valid registration.
Have a problem or issue you'd like our News 5 Investigates team to look into? Email us: News5Investigates@koaa.com