By Brian Maass and Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4)– A Vietnam veteran living in a Denver apartment complex says his car was legally stolen by a towing company, then sold out from under him without him having any idea of what had happened until months later.

“I don’t think I was treated fairly,” said James Zarsky, 72, a Navy veteran who is disabled and can only walk with a cane.

James Zarsky (credit: CBS)

He calls what happened to him an example of “predatory’ towing.

Zarsky is one of a growing number of Coloradans complaining about towing companies. State records show complaints filed against towing companies are on the rise for the third year in a row.

However, Zarsky’s case shows how towing companies and apartment complexes work together, sometimes leaving residents without their vehicles and without adequate warning of what is about to happen to their vehicle.

Zarsky’s son, Anthony, told CBS4, “They stole from him for no good reason.”

James Zarsky had been living in North Platte, Neb., but due to medical issues, he was moved to a Denver hospital in 2018 by an ambulance, in an emergency transport. After being released from the hospital, Zarsky moved into a one-bedroom apartment at the Hudson at Highline Apartments, 7201 Leetsdale Drive in mid- 2018.

(credit: James Zarsky)

When he lived in Nebraska, he had taken out a loan to buy a new 2016 Hyundai Accent.

“It was new and small and met my needs,” said Zarsky.

A family member drove the car from Nebraska to Denver after Zarsky was hospitalized and the car was parked at Zarsky’s apartment complex.

RELATED: CBS4 Investigates What Critics Call ‘Predatory Towing’ From Apartment Parking Lots

But since he was no longer able to drive, Zarsky paid little attention to his car, worried more about how he would pay mounting medical bills. Unknown to him, his registration tags expired in early 2019. But he told CBS4 he would go months at a time without even checking on his car, since he had no use for it and had trouble getting around.

In September 2019, Wyatts Towing, which works with the apartment complex, put a notice on Zarsky’s car at 1:07 a.m. on Sept. 8, 2019 that its registration had expired and the vehicle would be towed in 24 hours if he didn’t remedy the situation. Zarsky never saw the notice since he wasn’t driving. Wyatts returned 24 hours later and towed the car Sept. 9, 2019 at 5:26 a.m.. Zarsky had no idea the car was even gone and continued to make monthly payments on the vehicle.

It wasn’t until four months later- in January 2020- that Zarsky’s son, Anthony, was visiting his father and noticed the car was gone.

(credit: CBS)

“I thought it had been stolen”, said Anthony Zarsky.

He contacted Wyatts Towing only to find that not only had the car been towed four months earlier, but the company had then legally sold it when nobody responded to letters sent to Zarsky. The problem was Wyatts had sent those letters to Zarsky’s previous address in Nebraska, and he never received them.

“His car was legally stolen from him by Wyatts”, said Anthony, ”and he never knew it was going to happen. This car was taken from underneath him due to the fact he has a condition so he doesn’t go to his car every day. It is frustrating to know his vehicle was taken with such ease and sold out from under him.”

Anthony Zarsky contends putting a sticker on a car providing 24 hours’ notice might work for people who use their cars every day, but not for people like his father.

“To me the fact a notice is put on for 24 hours before its towed is a law for the able, not the disabled”.

When he signed his lease with the apartment complex, he listed the car on the lease. But Anthony Zarsky said the complex made no effort to notify his father that his car might be towed away.

“They knew it was his vehicle and no one bothered to tell him. I think the notice is not enough for someone who doesn’t use their car every day. You have a duty to your residents, you owe it to your residents to tell them something is going on. You can’t rely on a sticker on a car when you know the resident is disabled,” said Anthony Zarsky.

Sarah Draper, a spokesperson for the company that owns the apartment complex, would not answer questions but provided a written statement, ”The Hudson is contracted with Wyatts Towing to remove all unlicensed vehicles after providing a 24 hour notice, as outlined in all of our lease agreements. While we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused for one of our residents, we trust all residents to be accountable for their own property and uphold the terms of their signed agreements.”

An attorney for the apartment complex wrote, ”The property does not contact each individual that has a vehicle towed by Wyatts Towing. In your circumstance, the proper procedures were followed and a 24-hour notice was provided to you.”

Complaints about this kind of private property towing are on the rise according to data from Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission. In fiscal year 2017- 2018, the agency fielded 487 complaints. That number rose to 506 complaints the next year. Halfway through this fiscal year, there have been 257 complaints, on pace for a higher number than the previous year. In a report filed last year, the PUC said, ”In 2018 , towing complaints comprised over 50% of all complaints received at the PUC as compared to all other industries combined.”

After CBS4 began asking Wyatts Towing about what happened, the company took action, getting a check to James Zarsky for $8,447.80, the amount of principal Zarsky still owed on the car.

The company owner declined to be interviewed, but issued a written statement saying, ”Wyatts is very pleased to have been able to help Mr. Zarsky through this difficult time. When we heard the circumstances surrounding his illness and the loss of his vehicle, we reached out to his family and offered our assistance. We appreciate his service to our country and we wish him all the best.”

James Zarsky said the check from the towing company will allow him to pay off what he still owes on the car, which he no longer has. “It will help a lot,” said Zarsky.

His son said, “He’ll be able to pay the loan debt off and now he won’t be financially in the hole on a vehicle he doesn’t own any more. That’s a big deal. It means a lot.”

CBS4 reporters Brian Maass and Kati Weis serve on the CBS4 Investigates team, uncovering fraud, waste, and corruption. Send them a news tip or follow them on Twitter @Briancbs4 and @KatiWeis.

Comments (4)
  1. Renato says:

    My wife’s car was towed from the apartment complex by Wyatt for expired license plate while we were traveling. The registration was paid but the sticker was not on the plate and that’s my wife’s fault. They called it illegal parking?! A police would check the record and see it was paid and maybe give us a fine (mostly likely a warning) for that? It was parked in a private property! The property was impound and it cost us a lot of money to get it back since we were traveling…

  2. Ger San says:

    The law that allows this sort of predatory towing needs to be changed. It’s not only towing from apartment and condo complexes, but towing from any private parking or parking lot. There are zero safeguards for the owner of a vehicle, who sometimes may not be the one who drove a car to a place where it’s towed. At a minimum, the entity that contracts with a tow company should be fully liable for notifying the owner properly and for any damage to the vehicle as a result of the tow. Remember, most of these vehicles are being towed for no other reason than a property owner’s convenience, not for a safety issue, and in many cases (such as a fire lane violation) should only be relocated rather than privately impounded. Heck, the city has done exactly that with vehicles towed around the Stadium for years, ticketing vehicles and moving them to a lot in West Denver. Why are private tows allowed to go further than that? Time to revisit this law and give owners more protection from predatory but legal tow practices!

  3. Curtis Sliwa says:

    Wyatts towing is a joke. They’ll go into apartment complex garages on the first of the month and sticker expired plates 24 hour late. The good thing is I’ve heard of major problems where apartment managers were told to quit in 24 hours. They did.

  4. Biggest shock of this article, the Towing Company ended up being the good guy in the end…Its a big deal in our increasingly rental economy when landlords are imposing more rules on tenants. Parking, Package Pickup, ability to initiate eviction for minor complaints. (noise, pets, guests).

    They set up a contracts remove their tenants property in the name of “beautification/blight/parking enforcement”, and they weren’t even willing to give him a phone call to check in on him about it.

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