By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4)– Bill Chamberlin, 87, walks with a limp and is tethered to an oxygen tank. A veteran of the Korean War and the recipient of two Purple Hearts, Chamberlin has seen plenty in his life and his military career.
“I was very glad to have the opportunity to do what I did,” he said of his time in Korea.
But for all he has seen and experienced, he said what truly baffled him was having his car towed from his southeast Denver apartment complex, City Square Apartments, last month for having an expired registration tag on his license plate.
He had parked in his usual handicapped spot in the apartment parking lot with his disabled hang tag clearly visible and his Purple Heart license plate affixed to his car. But when he came out to run an errand on April 6, his car was gone.
“I came out but there was another car parked there.”
Chamberlin soon learned that the towing company contracted by his apartment complex, Wyatts Towing, had towed his car because his Colorado registration tag had expired at the end of February.
“If I was going to get charged,” said Chamberlin, “I should get charged by the police because it’s a state law. It’s their responsibility.”
It cost him $37.85 for a taxi to travel to Wyatts and retrieve his car, which cost him another $257.16, not easy for an elderly veteran who survives on his pensions.
“The one thing I would really like is for apartments not to have the ability to manage state laws and I think that’s exactly what they’re doing,” said Chamberlin.
He contends if he has an expired tag, it should be police who pull him over and cite him, not his apartment complex and their towing company.
But what the apartment complex and towing company did is perfectly legal according to both the law and Chamberlin’s lease. In the 35-page lease he signed, under “Community Policies,” the lease reads “cars with expired licenses… will be towed at owners expense.” Under the lease “Parking Addendum,” it reads, “unlicensed vehicles… will be towed away without notice and at the vehicle owner’s sole expense.”
Shanna Martinez, manager of City Square Apartments, told CBS4 ,”The laws of the road are all the same whether in a private lot or on the street.”
She said it is normal for towing companies to haul away residents’ cars with expired tags.
Tom Nellesen, a Denver-based attorney, said apartment complexes can legally set rules like this, which are typically aimed at preventing abandoned cars from being dumped in their lots.
“It’s legitimate, it’s legal, but I do think it’s predatory,” said Nellesen.
He said most apartment residents don’t read the fine print in their leases which allows for their vehicle to be towed if their plates have expired. After CBS4 contacted Wyatts towing, they decided to refund $257.16 back to Chamberlin.
“Wyatts Towing is happy to provide Mr. Chamberlin with a full refund in light of his sacrifices for our country. More than 10% of our employees are veterans, including myself, and we have a great appreciation for Mr. Chamberlin’s service to our nation,” wrote Trevor Forbes, the company president.
CBS4 kicked in the other $37.85 that Chamberlin paid for the taxi to retrieve his car.
He said he appreciated the assistance but said what he really wanted was for apartment complexes to stop enforcing state laws that he believes are not their responsibility.
Immediately after retrieving his vehicle, Chamberlin got updated tags for his car.