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A quarter of all towing complaints in Colorado are against one company: “These guys feel particularly predatory”
November 21, 2021
Every morning, Jennifer Maestas looks out her apartment window in Northglenn to see if her car is still there.
She knows to look because most days she sees Wyatt’s Towing drivers circling the lot, looking for violators.
On a recent Friday morning, Maestas didn’t see her car. It had been towed in the middle of the night, she said, the result of a permit screwup by her apartment management company. The tow forced Maestas to take the day off of work, and she didn’t have a car seat to take her daughter to daycare.
“As a single mother, this is a worst-case scenario,” Maestas said as she waited to get her car from the Wyatt’s Towing lot in north Denver. “There’s nothing you can do.”
Maestas isn’t alone in her complaints against Wyatt’s Towing, a Front Range staple whose blue-and-white signs are omnipresent across downtown Denver parking lots and in apartment complexes throughout the metro area. The company has become a regular target before the state’s Public Utilities Commission — which regulates towing companies — and its practices have prompted an extensive consumer alert from the Better Business Bureau.
Wyatt’s five locations and sister companies — which span from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs — accrued more than 150 complaints to the Public Utilities Commission last year, according to state data, accounting for nearly a quarter of all towing complaints in Colorado. And of the $5,305.32 in state-ordered customer refunds related to towing last year, nearly one-third came from Wyatt’s companies.
“Nobody is happy with tow companies,” Maestas said. “But these guys feel particularly predatory.”
A pair of state lawmakers, however, wonder if the Public Utilities Commission has the power to effectively crack down on bad actors.
“I have been concerned about whether the PUC is adequately staffed and has enough authority to adequately represent legitimately aggrieved residents,” said Rep. Edie Hooton, a Boulder Democrat, who’s working on another towing bill to complement one signed into law this past legislative session.
Complaints piling up, but enforcement lags
Between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, no Colorado towing company received more consumer complaints to the PUC than Wyatt’s Towing and its sister companies, Boulder Valley Towing, Lone Star Towing and Klaus’ Towing.
Of the 158 total complaints, the PUC found the companies to be out of compliance with state statute in just 14 instances, according to state data. Wyatt’s Towing itself had 12 violations; only one other towing company in the state had more than four.
Wyatt’s and its sister companies also were forced to refund $1,722.86 by the PUC consumer affairs team last fiscal year — more than 32% of the total refunds issues by all Colorado towing companies during that stretch, according to state data. The company also paid out an additional $1,623.79 in refunds issued by the PUC’s investigations team, and another $551.40 after an administrative law judge sided with one complainant last year.
But despite the complaints, the PUC did not fine Wyatt’s once for any violations during that span, a department spokesperson confirmed.
In multiple instances last year, PUC investigators issued warnings to the company over practices ranging from missing signage to failing to release vehicles upon demand, department records show.
“You are encouraged to further familiarize yourself with PUC rules and regulations,” PUC investigators told Wyatt’s in their warning letters each time, “as future violations may result in civil penalties and/or the revocation of your permit authority, as appropriate.”
A PUC criminal investigator acknowledged in one June email to a complainant that they only have four investigators to cover the entire state, and that they are only able to enforce violations of rules regarding the “authorization and documentation (invoice) of the tow and NOT the reason for the tow itself.”
“I know this doesn’t sit well with a lot of people when they’re advised of it but I’m afraid that would be all we could do,” the investigator wrote.
James Cullen, a PUC spokesman, said in a statement that the department uses “the resources we are allocated to investigate complaints as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible.”
The Better Business Bureau gives Wyatt’s an F rating, with 134 complaints closed in last three years and 53 in the last year. The consumer site also issued a prominent warning atop Wyatt’s page, citing a “pattern of consumer complaints” that includes allegations of predatory towing and towing cars without notice; towing cars from private lots without management or law enforcement telling them to do so; and allegations that the company caused damage to vehicles during tows.
“On June 3, 2019, BBB submitted a written request to the company encouraging them to address the pattern of complaints,” the website states. The company never responded, a BBB spokesperson told The Denver Post.
Wyatt’s and its sister companies have deals with thousands of property owners across the Front Range, the company says on its website.
“Most parking issues can be resolved with active monitoring and selective towing,” the website states. “By managing the parking, you increase the value of the property and increase the happiness of your tenants.”
Company representatives did not respond to multiple messages from The Post seeking comment, but a company executive told CBS4 in 2015 that the number of complaints is not an indication of bad businesses practices, but rather that the companies do more volume than other towing outfits.
“Everything about them is bad”
All of these allegations ring true for drivers who told The Post about their experiences with Wyatt’s Towing, ranging from damaged vehicles after tows to finding their cars missing from apartment complexes or restaurant parking lots.
Rene Briggs, who accompanied Maestas on her recent trip to the towing yard, said Wyatt’s Towing drivers come through their Northglenn apartment complex every night and “circle like sharks.”
Recently, as Briggs’ daughter stopped by the apartment to drop off some items, a tow truck driver sat behind the car, waiting, Briggs thought, for the daughter to leave the car unattended so they could tow it.
“They’re the biggest (expletives) I’ve ever dealt with,” Briggs said. “Everything about them is bad.”
Karin Rager had her car towed by Wyatt’s from her Lakewood apartment lot in January due to expired plates — even though she had DMV documentation on her dash stating that they were behind on delivering the tags due to the pandemic.
A Ring camera video captured by Rager’s neighbor shows her car scraping noisily on the ground as it was being towed away. Rager was forced to take the day off work to deal with the situation, only to find out when she got her car back that it had sustained $3,000 in damages as a result of the tow. Luckily, she said, her insurance company recouped the money.
“I hate that towing company now,” Rager said.
After her tow, she asked her apartment management if they would consider using a different company. They declined.
Residents throughout metro Denver have flooded Nextdoor message boards to complain about Wyatt’s.
“They towed me in the middle of the night from my own apartment complex lot,” a Washington Park resident wrote.
“I was clearly parked in the correct spot marked as parking for the restaurant I was at,” another West Colfax tenant wrote. “I got back and my truck was gone.”
News stories abound. Drivers who said they were towed during a snowstorm — only to realize that even though Wyatt’s closed during the storm, they were still charged storage fees.
Or the mother who took her kids to a Marilyn Manson concert and had her car towed even though she said she’d left it with a parking attendant.
A 2015 CBS Denver investigation found Wyatt’s, along with other towing companies, routinely overcharged on “drop fees” — the charge when a car owner returns to their vehicle before the tow company has taken the car away.
State Rep. Naquetta Ricks, an Aurora Democrat, said these stories evoke predatory images.
“They’re just prowling around trying to find stuff that’s illegal,” she said.
Ricks and Hooton, the Boulder Democrat, are working on a towing bill this session to complement the one the legislature passed in 2021.
The bill is still in its early stages, the lawmakers said, but they’re are looking at potentially changing towing fees set by the PUC, as well as what types of agreements management firms might have with tow companies. The legislators are also considering a dispute resolution system for the PUC similar to one implemented last year to help mediate complaints between mobile home owners and park management.
Cullen added in the statement that the PUC is working with the beefed-up towing task force “to incorporate more perspectives to generate recommendations for statutory changes that might improve our ability to regulate the industry.”
When told how much money Wyatt’s had actually been forced to refund over the myriad complaints against the company, Hooton said it didn’t seem like a lot.
“It seems to me, given the volume of complaints and the severity, that (the Public Utilities Commission) could use more help,” Hooton said.