METHUEN, Mass. - A local towing company is under fire after some customers say they were towing cars without notifying the owners.
Boston 25 News brought you this story Wednesday night and Thursday we've learned that since we began asking questions about Valley Towing's practices, the company is now responding.
Boston 25 News reporter Stephanie Coueignoux has been investigating for weeks and has found that tow company has started reaching out to some of its unhappy customers.
Those customers say they complained to the state after Valley Towing overcharged them for storing their cars after a tow.
The attorney for Valley Towing says they've started sending out checks to those customers, but the people we talked to say this isn't about the money - it's about a company they claim is taking advantage of people.
Jesse Davis received a $35 check last week from Valley Towing. He says he filed a complaint with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) – the state agency that oversees towing regulations and companies – after learning about the Boston 25 News investigation.
Davis' case dates back to August 2017, when he says Valley Towing charged him for an extra day of storage after a tow.
“I figured it would be a little less but I still had to pay it. I had no choice at the time,” said Davis.
A DPU spokeswoman told Boston 25 since June 2017, the agency has received six complaints against Valley Towing. The state says the company has agreed to reimburse some of those claims specifically involving overcharging, but for Davis, that check isn't enough.
“I think it's more on the principle. You can't just go around doing things like that to people,” said Davis.
Boston 25 first reported the cities of Methuen and Lawrence have contracts with Valley Towing. Boston 25 has confirmed Lawrence police are now investigating the company for "irregularities" in its towing practices. The city also suspended the company for one week.
Valley Towing's owner Ronald Parrino declined to comment for our previous story.
Thursday, Parrino's attorney issued a statement on his behalf - solely on the overcharging cases, saying most came during snow emergencies and the company was not aware of a state law regulating storage areas and fees.
"Following an inquiry received by Valley Towing, Inc., from the City of Lawrence, regarding storage charges for the involuntary storage of motor vehicles during two snow emergencies this winter, Mr. Ronald Parrino, the President of Valley Towing, Inc., met in January with representatives of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) in Boston, to discuss the allowable charges to individuals who have had their motor vehicles involuntarily towed at the direction of police or other public authority, to clarify the law relative that issue.
Mr. Parrino was informed that pursuant to M.G.L. c. 159B, section 6B, “(T)he maximum storage charge for non-commercial passenger motor vehicles shall be $35 per twenty-four hour period thereof when said vehicles have been involuntarily towed…”. It was learned however that this rate applies “only to lighted, outside storage facilities enclosed by a secure fence or other secure barrier at least six feet in height. Other outdoor storage facilities shall be entitled to a maximum storage rate of only one-half that established above.”
During recent snow emergencies declared in the City of Lawrence, Valley Towing, Inc., was required to use temporary, overflow storage areas that did not possess a six-foot high barrier, due to the large amount of vehicles that were towed. Combined, over 400 vehicles were towed at the request of the city. Valley Towing was informed by DPU that while the daily storage fee for a vehicle involuntarily towed is $35.00, the daily storage charge for unenclosed areas should be one-half of $35.00, or $17.50 per day.
Valley Towing, Inc., in a letter to the City of Lawrence in January, agreed to refund all individuals subject to the amount of the overcharge ($17.50 per day), for any vehicle that was stored in the storage areas that did not have the requisite barriers. Valley Towing, Inc. has already provided refunds to those individuals who have provided the documentation regarding the tow of their motor vehicles during the snow emergencies.
Further, Valley Towing, Inc., has offered to provide free storage for any vehicle towed in the next snow emergency in the City of Lawrence, in an effort to compensate the community for the inadvertent overcharge in the recent snow emergencies." - Jim Bowers, Attorney for Ronald Parrino.
For Davis- while he appreciates the $35 gesture, he says it's too little too late.
“I feel like they should be held accountable for their actions that they did. You can't just take people's money, take advantage of people, get caught and then think it's alright to pay people back. Something needs to get done,” said Davis.
With the cases out of Methuen, Police Chief Joseph Solomon says they will investigate any complaint they receive, but can only refer the matter to the court system.
Boston 25 learned that DPU is now doing an audit of Valley Towing after complaints about storage fees after cars were towed in a snow emergency.
DPU will be reviewing the company's invoices for the last three months and are also reviewing two other complaints.
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