7News investigates towing troubles in Spartanburg Co.


SPARTANBURG CO., S.C. (WSPA) – No one wants their car towed and there have been changes after a number of complaints over the last several months about a local towing company and its practices.

Drivers, even lawmakers, have major concerns about high prices and the number of tows from Cole Towing in Spartanburg.

It’s affected a lot of people who live in a handful of Upstate apartment complexes.

So 7News looked into what’s behind the frequent towing, and we learned Cole has an “invitation” to tow, and rights under the law, even as the list of complaints and concerns continues to grow.

When we first met April Worthy in February, she had just paid $315 to get her Ford Expedition out of the Cole towing yard.

Two weeks later, this single mother of two was towed again because her parking pass had expired by 6 hours.

“After I got towed, I looked at my lease agreement,” April Worthy said. “They supposed to at least give us 24-hour notice and put a note on the vehicle. If they can’t stick to their own policy, then I think that’s a problem. It’s like they’re enforcing something, but you can’t go against your own lease, can you?”

We took that question to her apartment complex, the Reserves at Hillcrest.

Property Manager Jennifer Lines declined an on-camera interview, but over the phone, she told us three letters informing residents of changes to the towing policy were all the notice needed by law.

LINES INTERVIEW:

Diane: “How does sending a letter that’s not signed by residents take precedence over a lease that is actually signed by residents?”

Jennifer: “Because according to the law, if we are going to change anything in lease, which we are, and that is to tow them for certain things, then we have to give them a letter with the 30 days notice and we gave them way more than the 30-day notice.”

Diane: “The letter doesn’t say that it negates the required 24 hours notice on the car to be towed that’s in the signed lease, though. So, isn’t it a violation?”

Jennifer: “No, it’s still not a violation, but you can think what you want to think.”

Attorney Andrew Hart said that “simply placing a notice on the doors, or up on someone’s bulletin board, does not cancel this provision out.”

Hart is one of two lawyers we checked with who maintain disregarding a lease provision like the 24-hour notice on the car is not valid unless it’s approved by the tenants in writing.

“There is a pattern that we see through this lease being violated that’s harming the same people the same way,” Hart said. “So when we see a situation like that, I look at unfair trade practices being a possibility, absolutely.”

“I’ve had neighbors get their car towed 2-3 times out of a week,” Latreace Jones said at a Wellford Council meeting.

And yet, the person who has faced the blame at council meetings is Chris Cole–the owner of Cole Towing.

“It was my food money for the month,” another woman said at the meeting.

But several people clapped when Patricia Watson said, “I think he’s a nuisance and we’re going to revoke his license.”

Cole granted 7News an exclusive interview.

“We haven’t done anything wrong,” Cole said.

He hasn’t talked to the press in years, though he’s had many conversations with frustrated people like Worthy.

“I stood outside in the cold with my daughter for probably about 20 minutes begging him to let my car down so I could just go to work,” Worthy said.

COLE INTERVIEW:

Diane: “If you’re patroling these apartment complexes frequently, how is that not predatory towing?”

Cole: “Well because we are simply following the rules of the apartment complex that’s set forth.”

Cole’s attorney says his client has been under scrutiny ever since he got hit with 70 charges of illegal towing in Greenville County two years ago.

“They were all completely dismissed and expunged from his record,” Cole’s attorney, Steve Hisker, said. “The problem is that that story still exists. It exists on the internet.”

His lawyer filed this lawsuit last month against the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.

It states, in 2015, Cole had “towed and removed the cars of two family members of the department.”

And the lawsuit goes on to claim the charges were “to exact revenge, intimidate, punish and destroy” Cole’s business.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office can’t comment on pending lawsuits.

Still, you’ll find plenty of tenants who insist, history or no history, the main beef against Cole is two-fold. First, his price, $135 more than what Spartanburg County and City charge.

“I think 285 is excessive,” said David Ward with TCB Towing.

Still, Ward admits Cole is not breaking any law.

“As with state law, they don’t set a cap on it or anything so you’re allowed to charge whatever you’d like, but I guess it falls back to moral judgment, what’s fair to the people that you’re towing,” Ward said.

“I spent $636 altogether and that’s car payments that I need to make on my truck now,” April Worthy said.

Cole says his prices are higher because his tows are more like impounds–more dangerous–with his staff getting attacked, even, and require two men in the truck at all times.

Beyond price, some tenants also take issue with the fairness of certain tows.

“They trying to trick you,” said Jowan Whiteside.

Whiteside’s girlfriend filled out a visitor parking pass for two days.

The rules say the pass “is only valid for 72 hours.”

She got towed because she didn’t write three days.

COLE INTERVIEW:

Cole: “They want them filled out 100% right. They want to know who’s coming in there, who’s coming out.

Diane: “How is that not right, though?”

Cole: Because it’s 3 days, they are supposed to put the 3rd day on there.”

Diane: “But she wasn’t staying 3 days, she was only staying 2.”

Cole: “They were told that if they are only staying 2 days to fill out the pass for 3 days.”

“It’s unfair, it’s ridiculous,” Whiteside said.

The Reserves admits the visitors parking is their rules, and they want to make one other thing clear.

“Myself and the Reserves at Hillcrest is not profiting from the towing,” Jennifer Lines said.

April Worthy plans to honor her lease, and not a day longer.

“Now I feel like I’m not safe, cause they can take my car, I can wake up one morning and there I go again, it’s gone,” Worthy said. “And I can’t afford that every time, I just can’t.”

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