City of Seattle's official tow partner impounded a homeless woman's stolen car and wanted $21,634 to give it back

Update: An earlier version of this article misidentified Dick's Towing of Everett as the Dick's Towing of Seattle involved this this story. I apologize to Dick's of Everett for the error.

Seattle is in the grips of a dire housing emergency (though the city has money to burn when it comes to subsidizing multi-billion-dollar sports teams); Amanda Ogle is one of the many people in Seattle living out of a car, in her case, a 1991 Camry.

Ogle's car was stolen, abandoned, and towed by Dick's Towing to an impound lot with a fee owing of $427 (which Ogle couldn't afford); Dick's Towing (sister company to Lincoln Towing, the City of Seattle's official towing partner) gave Ogle the wrong paperwork to give to the Seattle cops, creating a delays that sent Ogle to court, where she represented herself against Dick's. The court ordered her car returned, but Dick's had already sold off Ogle's car (which was also her home) for $150.

Ogle got a lawyer who represents poor people, they sent Dick's a letter, and Dick's got her car back, but refused to return it to her unless she promised not to sue them for screwing her over. Then they started charging her $75/day ($2300/month, "enough to rent the 27-year-old car its own apartment with granite countertops in a downtown high-rise") to store the car because she refused.

Finally, after the bill had hit $21,634, a judge ordered Dick's to pay $2,000 for every day that that her car was not returned to her. More than a year later, Dick's finally gave her car back.

Instead, Ogle found the Northwest Consumer Law Center, a tiny two-lawyer shop formed in Seattle recently to help the poor with consumer problems. An attorney there, Eggers, sent Lincoln a letter citing the judge's order and asking for damages. Lincoln responded that it had bought the car back and Ogle could have it — but only if she first released any claims against the companies.

"So basically they were using the car as leverage to get out of any liability," Eggers said. "The car is Amanda's home, and it was the middle of winter. But to them it's a bargaining chip."

Lincoln then played tow-company hardball. The company started gouging her $75 per day to store the car. That's $2,300 per month — enough to rent the 27-year-old car its own apartment with granite countertops in a downtown high-rise. By Monday, the bill, with tax, had reached $21,634.

"Additional fees may apply," it says helpfully at the bottom.

But that day, Ogle went before another judge and asked him to hold Lincoln in contempt. The two sides had incredibly filed 21 different pleadings totaling more than 300 pages. Lincoln, in its filing, said that it had gone to "extraordinary lengths" to return the car to Ogle — by which it means offering her $1,000 to drop her lawsuit last spring.

A $21,634 bill? How a homeless woman fought her way out of tow-company hell [Danny Westneat/Seattle Times]

(via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Road One Seattle)