Residents in Spanish-speaking communities accuse tow company of preying on them

GASTON COUNTY, S.C. — 9 Investigates is looking into claims of targeted towing after residents in mostly Hispanic mobile home communities say they are being preyed on. They told Channel 9 they’ve been hit with sky-high bills, some reaching up to $800.

Now, they want the harmful regulations to end. The first step toward making that happen is scheduled for Thursday night in northeast Charlotte at the Charlotte Hills community, where tenants started negotiating with property owners.

Those residents are often people who shy away from speaking publicly, but now, they’re taking a different approach.

Many told Channel 9′s Ken Lemon it started with suspect towing regulations that forced some of them to cross the state line to get their cars back. In many of their cases, the cars were removed from their own driveway.

“We’re fighting. We’re fighting for our rights,” Jessica Torres said.

‘Taking advantage of people’

Torres has taken up the struggle alongside her neighbors in the Southern Villages mobile home park near Bessemer City. It’s just one of scores of communities like it sprinkled around the Charlotte region.

The mostly Spanish-speaking neighbors who bought their homes and rented the land told Lemon they feel powerless. Torres said property owners have gone too far.

“Money. Abuse. Taking advantage of people who are not speaking up,” she said.

For many people, it began with towing. The operator of Affliction Towing near Greenville, South Carolina said he put stickers on cars in some communities to warn people to move their improperly parked cars or they will be towed in seven days.

Neighbors said that’s isn’t true. They said a car with that sticker could be towed in hours, and many times, cars were towed without a sticker or warning.

“I have been here longer than anybody and they towed my car. Didn’t tell me nothing,” Steele Albert said. “It was right here, and they towed it. Guy told me it would be $729. And if I hadn’t went and got it, they were going to charge me $54 a day storage.”

Kimberly Guillen said the company towed two cars from her home.

“We had to pay like $800 to get the first car,” she said.

She and several others said they had to travel to a lot in Wellford, South Carolina — 60 miles away — to get their cars, even though the law says you can’t tow a car to a lot more than 25 miles away.

Lemon asked a group of mothers and grandmothers how many of them have had their cars towed or been fined. Torres translated his question, and almost everyone raised their hands.

Residents band together

The property owner of Southern Villages cut ties with the tow company Wednesday night.

“The towing was outrageous and that was the tip of everything. Like we’re done,” Torres said.

The group said their goal is to make owners agree to new regulations to favor the families. They believe if they band together, they can force more property owners to negotiate.

There is an effort in the North Carolina House to address predatory towing. If it becomes law, companies would need a permit to do this kind of work and have to get it renewed every year.

The bill says every time companies boot or tow a vehicle, they’d have to put certain information into a database, including where the booting or towing happened, and why. Companies would have to post clear signs about the parking rules and they couldn’t tow your ride more than 25 miles away.

The bill would also create a commission to set the maximum rates for the type of tow.

Tow company owner’s background

The owner of the tow truck company has a troubled past, according to the sheriff’s office.

Christopher Cole, the owner of Affliction Towing, was charged earlier this year for tow violations in Spartanburg County.

Though he’s not facing charges in the case we learned about on Thursday, we also learned in February, deputies near Greer, South Carolina charged Cole with two violations of their towing ordinance.

Cole also still has charges pending from 2021, when investigators say he pointed a gun at someone during an argument with another tow company.

Even though the property management group cut ties with Affliction Towing on Wednesday night, neighbors said they are still not happy the company already got many of them for thousands of dollars.

Local laws

Towing rules vary based on where you live. Click the links below to learn about the towing laws in our area:

(WATCH BELOW: NC House bill would crack down on predatory booting and towing more)

Michael Praats

Michael Praats, wsoctv.com

Michael is an investigative producer for Channel 9.

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