Case dismissed: They towed my car and now they’re threatening me

Clare Koebert was looking forward to seeing the sights in Chicago last summer. She’d rented a car with her husband and made the 12-hour drive from the Philadelphia suburbs.

Instead, she got an unwanted lesson in Chicago’s infamous bureaucracy — and, she says, in its unfair judicial system.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight. Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

While she was in town, her car was towed. The city says she parked in a handicapped spot. She and her husband insist they didn’t.

It all happened near Millennium Park on a Sunday in July. They paid $8.50 for two hours of parking.

As we were about the make our way to Millennium Park, the car that was parked just in front of us left.

My husband, knowing and respecting my super-accurate nature, asked if he should move the car up a space, just to be sure that we were safely out of the handicapped zone.

Well, even though I was in vacation mode, I re-checked our rental car’s position relative to the handicapped spot borders and confirmed, again, that we were legally parked, and not within so much as an inch of the handicapped spot.

But when they returned from the park, their car was gone. It had been towed away.

THe Koeberts retrieved their vehicle and paid a $160 fine. After contacting multiple people within the city, they were granted a hearing by phone to determine if the tow was, in fact, correct. Chicago takes photos of parking violations, so they were confident the case would go their way.

Not so.

Basically, it was the city representative’s word against ours, and the judge ruled against us.

If the City had only ticketed, and not just towed the car, we would have simply photographed our legally-parked car and, given this evidence, the ticket would have been dismissed, but the city towed away our evidence.

This didn’t sound right to me. If the city takes photos of parking violations, it should simply share the picture with Koebert and then she could see that she was either right (or wrong).

It gets worse. A few months later, the couple received an additional $200 fine from the City of Chicago Department of Revenue. The reason for the delay? They’d rented the car, and it took some time for the fine to be passed along to them.

But why pay a fine for something they didn’t do? They appealed, but their requests to see the evidence were stonewalled. Finally, they received another fine. Chicago now wanted $305 — the $200 original fine plus $105 in extra fees. If they wanted to appeal, they would have to pay a fee, too.

The city was threatening an administrative judgment, which could include garnishment of wages of filing a lien against their property, “boot eligibility,” impounding their vehicle or driver’s license suspension.

As I may have mentioned, the Koeberts live in Philly, so good luck with that, Chicago.

“What horrendous treatment we received as visitors to Chicago,” she told me. “We were treated like criminals.”

A closer look at their case reveals a few other suspicious items. The car was towed just 29 minutes after the couple parked in the spot. To them, and to me, that suggests it could be the parking equivalent of a speed trap — perhaps a poorly-marked handicapped spot that generates revenue for the city.

I contacted the mayor’s office and it investigated the towing incident. A representative contacted me and said the city had conducted a through review and concluded that the evidence for the tow and fine was “solid.” It also agreed to waive Koebert’s fee if she wanted to appeal the fine.

But Koebert is done. She doesn’t have any confidence in the justice system. Chicago has sent her a dunning notice, which means it is trying to collect the fine and may have already sent the matter to a collection agency. But so far, her credit report hasn’t shown anything negative.

I’ve done all I can. I still don’t understand why Chicago doesn’t share the evidence it has of her parking violation. What is it afraid of? Is it possible that the image would vindicate her, or worse, that there is no image at all, and that some overzealous meter maid is being protected by the bureaucracy?

Who knows.

One thing is certain: Next time I’m in town, I’m taking the “L.”

(Photo: Andy in Hokk aido/Flickr)

71 thoughts on “Case dismissed: They towed my car and now they’re threatening me

  1. Now a story that is about an argument over a parking ticket? Really?
    No stories that are actual real mediation cases?


  2. Welcome to our lovely city. Technically, they should be able to see any photographed evidence by looking it up on the city’s website at Depending on when the infraction occurred.

    But that assumes they have the license plate # of the rental car and a copy of the ticket (or ticket #). And it also depends on whether or not a photo was actually taken. (The ‘meter maids’ have cameras in their ticket-printers, while actual police officers do not, and actually hand-write tickets now. So depending on who wrote the ticket, there may or may not be a photo that goes along with it. If there is, the ticket will say “Violation Supported by Photographs” on it.)

    The infringers, er–victims, in this case ought to have the ability to appeal the decision to traffic court (and not just an over-the-phone review) where they can demand evidence or potentially have the case dismissed. However, they would have to come back to Chicago. Possibly more than once, depending on court logistics.

    I’m sorry to say, they’re probably SOL. The parking enforcement in Chicago is tough, since the meters have been privatized. And any car that has been ticketed in a Tow Zone (which is most areas, if you’re not at the right time, etc) can be towed to the city impound lot. It’s a pain to get to, and expensive to get a car out. And appealing a tow is an entirely separate process from disputing the original parking ticket.  I have known people who had a ticket thrown out, but could not recover the tow/storage fees from the resulting tow afterwards.

    Best of luck. I hope it doesn’t turn you off of the great city of Chicago entirely. :/ We really are a great town, I promise.

    1. I have never been more happy to move away from a place as I was when I left Chicago.  The entire city government stinks, and this story is fairly typical of the way it operates.

      Too bad, because it’s otherwise a great city.

  3. It’s a scam, pure and simple. How about getting this on the news? Openly blast the mayor’s office for concealing evidence?

    Though, given it’s Chicago, that might not make much of a difference.
    Good thing The Anus of America didn’t get the Olympics. It would shame our country!!!

  4. I think they need to contact the office of the attorney general of Illinois or of their home state. Indeed this whole thing is fishy.

  5. It’s not just Chicago.  I had the same thing happen in Hartford (and we’re locals).   We were in a legal spot, left before the snow emergency started, took pictures (because we saw the ticket and we hadn’t been towed).  Appealed (tried to, anyway).  Parking authority kept hitting us with non-payment fines even though I 1) sent the appeal, 2) faxed the appeal, and 3) delivered the appeal in person.  Finally got a hearing date.  Adjudicator said she had “no authority” to cancel the original ticket (huh?), but did waive the non-penalty fees.  Through all this, I had marched from agency to agency trying to get a copy of the parking regulations, and searched online, too.  They apparently don’t exist….the easier to make up the rules.  And Hartford wonders why it’s a dead city on nights and weekends…

  6. My bet is they weren’t parked in a handicapped spot at all.  They’re from Philly, home of some really odd parking rules and really on top of it parking enforcers.  In Philly you HAVE to be super accurate about where you park and my guess is this couple did the same in Chicago by habit. 

  7. I’ve had the exact same experiences in San Francisco and Miami. Traffic and parking fines are used as a shakedown to extort ruinous fees from out of towners. Locals know who to slip a few bucks to to make the situation disappear. In Los Angeles, they sent hundreds of thousands of fines to red light violators, but locals know that they aren’t legally enforceable and don’t pay, while out of towners send in their money to pay fat pensions.

  8. I think I’m missing a paragraph or something:

    “My husband, knowing and respecting my super-accurate nature, asked if he
    should move the car up a space, just to be sure that we were safely out
    of the handicapped zone.”

    Where was the handicap zone?  Did they see one?  Did they park next to it?  Until that line, I didn’t see any mention of a handicapped zone.  Were they on a street or lot?  I’m having a hard time visualizing what they were doing when they parked.

    1. I’ve got a working theory on what may have happened.  In my area there are some Handicapped Van Accessible spots that are essentially two normal parking spots combined into one–the left one is for the van to park in and have a big blue handicapped sign in front of it, while the right one is striped to use for the ramp/lift.  If all the paint weathers away, these look like a single marked handicapped spot with a regular parking space next to it.  The husband may have had an inkling that was going on, so he asks his wife, but she looks to see that they’re clear of the spot next to them and determines they’re parked fine.  Then the parking enforcement comes along and gives them a ticket.

  9. Out of curiousity, why did the Koeberts’ rental car get selected for this “enforcement”, out of all the cars in the lot?  I’m leaning toward Chris’ thought that they did park in a poorly marked handicapped spot.  Or former handicapped spot.  You know, the kind that gets painted over a previously painted spot.

    As for fighting, why bother?  Chicago is a fascinating place to visit, but has a terrible reputation for corruption.  They’re not local; they can’t win.

    1. Their car was rented in Philly, probably means it had a Pennsylvania license plate on it.  As an out of state vehicle, the ticketer knew there was less of a chance that they would be able to fight it.  And we don’t know if any other vehicles around them were towed or not as it is not stated.  The entire lot could have been ticketed and towed.

      1. It could have had any state’s plates…but you raise an interesting point. The last time I rented a car, Chicago coincidentaly, I had California plates. I could choose any car on the lot, in the future I’ll choose one with plates from the state I plan on staying in!

      2. I had thought of that (I know what a target my car is when I drive outside the Omaha/Bellevue/Lincoln area where my plates are the norm), but surely theirs was not the only car in the lot with out of state plates.  And if the entire lot had been towed, I’m sure the OP would have mentioned coming back to an empty lot.  🙂

        Of course, the ticketing agent could have had a grievance against PA/Philly.  That happens.  And that would be an answer to my question about selection.

  10. I was driving in Ghent, NY in pouring rain, I thought my light were on, and I showed the state trooper when I got pulled over.  He then took me out and showed me they were not on, he then showed me the lights were on “automatic” and it was not dark enough to be on.  This cop showed no compassion over my honest stupidity and I got a $120 ticket. It was pointed out to me by a NH cop that NY assumes that I will not take the time to go back and contest the ticket as it would cost more than the fine.  What a racket! Good luck to the Koeberts, I hope they win in the end, but I doubt they will.

    1. “I hope they win in the end, but I doubt they will.”
      Not likely at all if they give up as they said in the article.

      But (in your case like this one), what do you expect NY to do? Simply drop the ticket because you drove out of state?

      1. I don’t think that was his point, Jason.  

        I live in NYC now for work, and my car still has CA plates.  I was straight-out told by a parking enforcer that they go for the out-of-state plates 1st, because “you don’t respect our rules”.  One time, as I was waiting for AAA, I literally saw them bypass several cars with expired meters that had NY plates, and ticket a NJ-plated car. It wasn’t until another 30 min had passed that they finally decided to go back to the NY cars.  By this time, several had already moved.  That’s a crock, in my opinion.

  11. what a rip-off and lack of fair playing field.  You get the tow, the ticket and pay up, no chance for a fair hearing, don’t pay up and we will ruin your credit, very unfair.

  12. Sometimes it is just better to pay up and move on.  You can’t fight city hall, especially when city hall is corrupt.

    Since the late fees keep piling up, and the only way to fight this would be to go back to Chicago which would most likely cost more than the ticket, just give them the money.  I know that it isn’t right, it isn’t fair, and it makes anyone reading this less likely to want to visit Chicago, but that’s the way it goes.

    1. For the record, this is LESS Government. The politicians in Chicago sold parking meters, etc. to a private company. So it is likely the private company that towed the vehicle. So don’t be blaming the democrats on this one.

      1. Well, it was the Democrats (elected because Chicago voters too often don’t look beyond the party beside a candidate’s name) that privatized the system.  If you want to get into politics, they are absolutely to blame.

    2. for the record, Obama has a smaller government than Reagan.

      so let’s not bring politics into this forum, mmmkay?

  13. We were considering a week end trip to “the windy city” over the labor day week end.  Think I will stick to Metro Detroit, it’s looks more inviting.

    1. Come on over!  We have great food, great casinos, the Tigers are better than the White Sox AND Cubs, and we’re a lot cheaper than Chicago (which I do love, but not as much as my dear Detroit).

  14. Several years ago when I attended a baseball game, I parked where the police officer told me and about forty other cars to park – we all got tickets for illegal parking. When we protested and requested the name of the police officer who was stationed at that location we were told NO!!

    We paid the fine under protest. Tickets are the latest source of money for towns and cities. Just look at the Red Light Cameras being installed – I agree that they improve safety but also bring into the coffers large sums of cash.

    Also watch out for new traffic signs which may not be clear. Another trap are signs that go from speed limit of 55 mph to 35 mph within 300 feet. You are trapped by radar. These also are a source of money.

    So accept the fact that you are screwed because the local judges will find you guilty.

    Have a wonderful day – Cliff  

    1. I’ve fallen victim to the rapidly falling speed limit twice (in WA and IN). Traps, plain and simple. I now feel obligated to hit my brakes, which seems unsafe, but hey, I don’t want a third ticket.

  15. Clare needs to lawyer up, and then have that attorney conduct discovery against the city, so the photo can be subpoenaed.

    If the city refuses to comply with the subpoena, than that gives Clare considerable leverage in this issue.

  16. I say get either the Attorney General (for IL and PA involved) or get hold of a local TV station in either area.  I’ll bet both areas have a local reporter who love to cover this story, either one locally to show “why Philly is better than Chicago for tourists” or one in Chicago to push the local government to not take advantage of tourists.

  17. Is she sure the so-called violation was because of parking in a handicapped zone?  The story makes it sound as if they parked on a street (moving “up” a space, plus only $8.50 for 2 hours of parking — garages in Chicago are typically $26-$32 for 2 hours).  There are myriad random parking restrictions on street parking, some of which change daily and even hourly in Chicago, and many of which might not be apparent, especially to a non-local — e.g. construction, street cleaning, rush hour, street closures for a festival, because it’s Thursday, because the president decides to drop in for an hour or two, because we have a new mayor, etc. etc.  These random temporary restrictions are not always clearly posted (I’ve been dinged on the street cleaning one, would have sworn I was legally parked but failed to notice the temporary sign a BLOCK away that indicated a closure that would start later that morning)

    Sadly, I’m guessing that even if the car was clearly *not* in a handicapped space, the city could dig up some other reason to claim it wasn’t legally parked.  But they absolutely should give the real reason and produce the photo, if they have it, so at least the OP knows what she’s fighting.  Of course, this is Chicago, where you really can’t fight city hall.

  18. The last time I went to contest a parking ticket, the sign over the courtroom door didn’t say “Equal Justice Under the Law,” it said, “We accept MasterCharge and Visa.” When I explained the issue to the judge, she wasn’t interested in hearing it. What she really wanted to know was whether I would be paying with MasterCharge of Visa. Parking violation fees are just an easy form of taxation that can often be applied to out of towners who find it easier to pay up than seek justice.

  19. Sadly, Chicago did this to us 10 years ago. Out of towners in for a weekend. Parked legally (as far as we could tell), came out around midnight and the rental cart had been towed. It was a nightmare trying to get the car back, and we left town when we did, never to return. I paid rather than fight, which I’m sure was what they hoped. In these economic hard times, I expect more of this as cities work to increase revenue.

  20. Chicago is pretty messed up when it comes to the justice system.  Or even the unofficial justice system.  Read up on Lincoln Towing and some of that crap that goes on.

    They did nothing wrong, but you have to be strong to live, or visit, there.

    1. Nothing new.  The late great Steve Goodman wrote a song about it, “The Lincoln Park Pirates”, back in the 70’s.

  21. This cracks me up. Hubby says, “I  think we might be parked in a handicapped spot.”  Then they get towed for being parked in a handicapped spot.  Dollars to donuts, Hubby was right.

    1. No…according to the OP, her husband asked her if she was sure that they were safely out of the handicapped zone, and she claims she double-checked. She could be lying, but generally it’s not that hard to verify that your car isn’t sticking out into a handicapped zone.

      1. I tend to believe her because I’ve seen plenty of bogus parking tickets in my time…but that was an odd part of the letter.

        “My husband, knowing and respecting my super-accurate nature, asked if he should move the car up a space, just to be sure that we were safely out of the handicapped zone.”

        First off, why was he not capable of seeing if they were in a handicapped spot?  That shouldn’t require “super accuracy.” Yet, oddly, the less-than-super-accurate one was who was concerned.
        And they weren’t talking about moving up a foot or two in their space to be safely clear of the handicapped spot, but rather pulling into an entirely new space.  I think it’s possible that they were never in an actual parking spot–possibly in the extra space for loading/unloading that you sometimes see next to the part of the handicapped space where the vehicle sits. I’ve seen a few of those that basically look like two spots because the loading area is marked separately. They might have parked in that area?

    1. I still refuse to layover in Chicago because of an incident from 30 years ago.  I was flying from Philly to Denver, with a layover at O’Hare.  

      Our plane was taking off and hit the jet-wash of the plane in front of us, causing us to make a considerable drop in the air.  A week later I read in the newspaper about the FAA fining O’Hare for both working their ATCs too many hours and having a regulation that allowed planes to take off too closely.

  22. When you talk about Chicago and Illinois, it remind me something about corruption. Governor Blago…Blago…Blago…. whatever, it’s just another corruption scandal. Corruption and gangster in Chicago seems like usual business for more than a century now.

  23. Been there, done that. Chicago doesn’t care. So what if they rip off and alienate a thousand people, or a million?!  There are millions more who will or HAVE to visit their fair(?) city. 

  24. I just got a $58 ticket for going through the Holland Tunnel without an EZ-Pass, except I do have EZ-Pass. The machine just didn’t read my transponder. The last time this happened, I spent five hours on hold with EZ-Pass and got no satisfaction whatsoever. With the approaching hurricane and the end of summer short staffing, I doubt that I will be able to reach anybody at their toll free number and will end up paying the ticket again even though it’s a misstake. Sometimes it feels like government is more an occupying force that something of the people, by the people and for the people.

  25. Didn’t Chicago outsource its parking meters to Macquarie in exchange for an upfront payment of 1-2 billion dollars?

    Maybe the City of Chicago still handles enforcement? Who knows.

    1. I’m not sure about the logistics of enforcement, but the parking meter deal was probably one of the worst things the city of Chicago has done to its citizens and visitors. (And that’s saying something!)

      I’m originally from the Chicago suburbs (not the city), and I love to go back and visit every now and then, but you couldn’t pay me to live in the city of Chicago.

  26. Honestly, why don’t people use public transportation? I know that it isn’t possible in many places, but Chicago has to be one of the easiest cities, after New York.

    1. In this case they drove from Philly.

      I rent a car upon arrival in Chicago because I am usually going west…past the points public transportation serves.

  27. They already paid the fine – Guilty.  End of Story.  They cannot try to later fight a ticket that they already paid.  Sorry – you pay or you fight.  If you fight you had better do it timely.  Yes – being from ‘out of town’ is a convenient excuse but its still an excuse.  They paid the TOWING fee when they paid the $160 – they still had the TICKET to pay which they did not – which resulted in the City contacting the registered owner who gave them the renter’s information.  They did not pay the fine – which is why the dunning letters are coming.  By then and now it is simply too late to fight it.  

    Is the system in EVERY city set up to screw the average member of the public – yes.  It is.  The only way to change it is to change the law – and do you think anyone will get elected who is soft on crime?  Imagine the uproar of allowing scofflaws to park in handicapped spaces – may not be reasonable but thats how politics works as long as you let advertising slogan control who you vote for. 

  28. This is Exhibit A in why I avoid driving in close-in areas of big cities like Chicago like the plague.  Too many traps for the unwary, and no effective way for a non-local to prove your innocence against the myriad of unclear parking restrictions and photo enforcement “scameras” (for the record, Chicago isn’t the only offender in that regard – try driving in D.C. sometime).  Unfortunately, I seriously doubt you’ll be able to get anywhere with the city, unless you have a direct line to Rahm Emmanuel himself.  Pay the fine and move on.  Or don’t pay it, and just be sure not to take your personal vehicle into Chicago, lest you want to risk being booted.

    The lesson for next time – if you’re driving, leave your car at the hotel or find a Park and Ride, and take the L.  Or at the very least, never, EVER try to park on the street unless you’re familiar with the area and the street parking restrictions.  Pay the extra money and park in a public garage.

  29. Their refusal to share the photo is a virtual admission of guilt. The writer clearly is dealing with people who are up to no good. It’s a pity that such a beautiful and interesting city is so famously corrupt.

  30. Here’s another thought.  The spot in front emptied.  Time was out on that meter so some schlub pulled in saw time on Koebert’s meter so gently nudged the front then pushed hard so the Koebert car was now in the handicap parking and the unknown vehicle had free parking for x nymber of minutes left on the Koebert’s meter.  Tow truck could do that also by lifting the front and moving the Koebert’s car backwards.  Am I paranoid?  Yes.  People are out to get me.  Should not complain after Katrina wiped out my record.  We were staying with a friend on Bourbon Street.  Overnight parking with no parking after 10 a.m.  Partied as only can be done in New Orleans so my wake up call was ignored by me.  There was the ticket at 10:30.  I put it in the glove box.  My wife said to pay it before we left town.  No way.  New Orleans is famous for government inefficiency.  We live 800 miles away so never heard from them and Katrina washed the proof out to sea or up the Mississippi.  As for the Koebert incident, out of sheer obstinacy and causing the Windy City grief I would without a doubt present a case to The State Attorney Consumer Affairs Division for Chicago to present the photo.  Make Chicago work for the money.  The ‘Net address is:

    Keep Chicago agitated!

    1. Uh, okay…  It was a rental, so it was clearly an automatic. Ever tried to move a car in Park?  They’d have had hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in damages to the front of the car and probably still wouldn’t have moved tmore than a few inches.  And why would the tow truck have needed to move them?  If anybody was crooked, it’d have been the parking enforcement people who could simply have said they were parked illegally and towed them–no need to go to the trouble of actually moving them into the handicapped spot. Chicago won’t show them any evidence even now, so clearly there was no need for any intricate set-up.

  31. Even though I have a blue hang tag I really have no desire to visit Chicago. I thought NYC was bad, but this is ridiculous. Ah, well, another city bites the dust.

  32. I say to share the picture.

    When parking, snap a picture with your cell phone.  I do it in case I forget where I parked, but this seems to be another good reason.

  33. So I do have a question about the note below:

    A closer look at their case reveals a few other suspicious items. The car was towed just 29 minutes after the couple parked in the spot. To them, and to me, that suggests it could be the parking equivalent of a speed trap — perhaps a poorly-marked handicapped spot that generates revenue for the city.

    WHY is this suspicious?  I expect the enforcement people make rounds and that 29 minutes after parking just happened to be when the enforcement people were there.

    This part of it isn’t suspcious to me at all.

  34. For the record, I’m not the Clare in the story…

    I have to tell you honestly, after reading Chris’s post and all the comments, that I lived in Virginia for 20 years and had two experiences that now make me appreciate that state even more than I already did.

    Several years ago, I got a parking ticket in Arlington County, VA that was a mistake.  I was parked near a handicapped zone, but I was outside of it.  There was a private driveway in the way which probably confused the ticketing officer.

    I was able to appeal the ticket online, and I politely told them, “this is surely a mistake!”  I noted (truthfully) that people park in that particularly spot every day, all day, without problems and concluded that this was probably just “good old-fashioned, human error.”

    In a few days I got a polite email stating that my ticket had been dismissed.  The End.

    The other story relates to a comment posted here, by the woman who thought her headlights were on when they weren’t.  My relatives were visiting me in VA some years back and I ran an errand, at night, in their car.  I was grumbling that their headlights weren’t very bright… and then a VA cop pulled me over because I had inadvertently turned only the parking lights on.  I explained that it wasn’t my car (the license-plates were, after all, from a different state, while my DL was from VA), and had been wondering why it was so dark.  We sorted out How The Headlight Switch Works In This Car, I thanked him, and drove away.  The End. 

    There’s a pro-Virginia moral to this story in there somewhere…  If you’re thinking of moving out of Chicago but don’t know where to go, you might want to make a note of it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: