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Northeast Portland Towing Skirmish Goes Statewide

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There's a permit parking lot next to Sean Cruz's driveway, a lot that belongs to two triplexes across from his house off of NE Fremont in Parkrose.

In March 2005, a Dodge Caravan and Cadillac were towed from Cruz's own property. The tow company, Retriever Towing, assumed his cars were parked illegally, and towed them from Cruz's driveway. Perhaps this could've been remembered as nothing more than a laughable nightmare—if Retriever hadn't towed the Cadillac again two days later.

Two years—and a fourth tow—later, Cruz is still infuriated. Where his story diverges from the average person's towing misadventure is that Cruz is chief of staff for State Senator Avel Gordly (I-Northeast Portland). And what does that mean? Legislation.

Cruz's experiences evolved into several bills, such as Senate Bill 431, a bill that prohibits towing without notice to tenants (with some exceptions). The bill will establish boundaries for an industry that has been largely without oversight since federal deregulation in the mid-'90s shifted responsibility to state and local governments. If the bills—which have both unanimously passed the House and Senate—are signed into law, landlords and tow companies will be liable for wrongful tows.

Under the past system, "if there was a problem with the tow—not the tow companies' problem," Cruz explains. "They still wanted to get paid."

The current state bills aren't the first attempt to address aggressive towing. In 2003, Portland adopted a law requiring tow companies to report information—such as the location of tow—to the city, says Portland Towing Coordinator Marian Gaylord.

The three companies that perform the most private property impound tows in Portland are Retriever Towing, Sergeants Towing, and 21st Century Towing. Last year, according to Gaylord, Retriever performed 4,577 tows—more than double Sergeants' 2,210 or 21st Century's 1,684.

But, the story doesn't end with the new towing laws. Cruz is still going after Hacienda Community Development Corp., the owner of the property next to his house and of several other NE Portland apartment complexes. On his blog—blogoliticalsean.blogspot.com—Cruz has been denouncing Hacienda since November, accusing Hacienda of complicity in aggressive towing at several of its properties, many of which have residents who speak little English.

"If educated people can't get anywhere with the towing companies, how can people who don't speak English deal with it?" Cruz says.

Hacienda CDC Executive Director Pietro Ferrari says Cruz's issues lie solely with Retriever and Sergeants, not Hacienda.

Ferrari says Hacienda asked their various property managers to switch from Retriever to Sergeants Towing in 2006in response to residents' complaints about the customer service of the towing companies. The switchover was completed by 2007. Problems had occurred because of misunderstandings related to language and cultural barriers, Ferrari says, adding that Sergeants Towing has a bilingual manager (Carolina Abdalah—who, incidentally, used to work for Income Property Management Co., one of Hacienda's property management firms, until earlier this year) to smooth those problems over.

In response to Ferrari's comments, Cruz says he isn't convinced.

"It's a bunch of baloney," Cruz says. "That's what [Ferrari] always said—that things are 'just fine.'"

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