UPDATE: Police confirmed that the cars were legally towed. Details here.
Drivers who parked inside a University City lot Monday night say they were shocked when they returned and their cars were nowhere to be found. At first they thought their cars had been stolen. It turns out however, that their cars had been towed, leaving them stranded.
“It makes me angry,” said Marcus Lindsay, whose car was towed. “It makes me feel helpless.”
The drivers say they parked at the lot near 36th and Filbert streets, next to the former University City High School, which was closed last year. The cars were towed however by the Lew Blum Towing Company on 40th and Girard Avenue.
Victoria Edwards, a Drexel University student, told NBC10 that about 200 cars in all were towed. Of the 200, only eight of those were released after each driver paid a $205 fine.
“I freaked out because I don’t have $205 to get my car out right now,” Edwards said.
Now the question remains whether those vehicles should have been towed in the first place. Lew Blum, the owner of Lew Blum Towing, tells NBC10 that not only should the vehicles have been towed but that his company also gave the drivers a warning well in advance.
Blum says he contacted the School District’s Facilities and Operations Department back on March 26, alerting officials that only drivers who worked at the nearby Samuel Powel Elementary School would be allowed to park in the lot. (*Note* Documents from Blum Towing in the link embedded on the left)
Blum also says he sent Philadelphia Police a fax back on March 27, telling them his company would enforce towing, starting on Monday.
“We told them what we were about to do,” Blum said. “We told them that towing would start at 3/31 at 7 a.m. until the property is sold. We told them that we already started to put flyers on vehicles and that it would continue for the rest of the week.”
Blum says the warnings were placed all over the lot and were clearly visible for drivers.
“We did that for three days,” Blum said. “The 27th, the 28th and the 29th. We must have done about 150 of those flyers! We went beyond the call of duty to warn people by doing what we did! We notified the police and we also notified the violators that they were gonna get towed! Some of them called us asking if we were gonna start towing. We said yes but that they would be okay during the weekend but that we’d start on Monday. We told a couple of students who were parking there the same thing!”
Blum claims the signs were actually there for the past five years, but it wasn’t until Monday when his company started to enforce them again.
“At one point, when Walnut Center was open, we were towing the cars,” Blum said. “Then we got a call from Jeffrey Caldwell, the school district's Senior Vice President of Facilities and Operations, telling us to stop towing cars so we stopped but we left the signs up still.”
Even though cars were not towed at the lot for several years prior to Monday, Blum says the drivers still should have known better.
“Ignorance is not an excuse,” Blum said. “The signs were still there. But what gives them the right, no matter whose property it is, to park on that property? It’s not a public street! You know you’re not supposed to do that! You took a chance with what you did!”
The drivers claimed however that Blum had no right to tow their vehicles because Drexel University recently bought the lot, rendering Lew Blum Towing’s contract void. Therefore, according to the drivers, it was illegal for Blum’s company to tow them. Blum denied this however and claimed the Philadelphia School District still owns the property.
“I don’t know where they come off thinking that Drexel bought the property,” Blum said. “But take a ride around Drexel’s Property and see who tows for them. Us! Those people were just taking advantage. They were just parking anywhere they wanted to park on that property and that was illegal.”
Blum also claimed there was a double standard in terms of how police react to complaints made to the PPA compared to private towing companies, even sending NBC10 a copy of PPA rates to further illustrate his point.
“People see our signs,” Blum said. “They don’t see PPA signs! Police surrounded my building tonight! They shut me down for over three hours! Would they go to the PPA and shut them down? When people complain about the PPA, you can’t even call the police! The Police won’t even get involved! They say, ‘oh, that’s out of our jurisdiction. But if a private tow gets you, we’ll stick it to ‘em!’”
Despite the strong statements from both sides, Philadelphia Police say that everything will boil down to who actually owns the parking lot. If Blum’s company does not have jurisdiction to tow on the property, police say the towed vehicles would be considered stolen and they would treat the situation accordingly.
NBC10 reached out to Philadelphia Police, Licenses & Inspections as well as Drexel University to find out who actually owns the parking lot. L&I and Drexel have not yet revealed the owner. Police say they are still investigating.