Customers legally parked at Sunny Isles strip mall say they've been towed

Management company says towing is necessary to deter illegal parking

By Amy Viteri - Investigative Reporter

SUNNY ISLES, Fla. - The rules of mall parking are pretty simple, park where you shouldn't and you could end up towed.

But what if you're parked legally and your car still ends up in a towing yard?

Several patrons of the RK Town Center at Collins Avenue and 168th Street in Sunny Isles Beach have complained on online review websites that their cars were towed after they’d stopped to shop.

One person wrote, "A sleazy towing company lurks this lot, towed seven minutes before paying."

Another posted a picture saying, "This is how you can end up if you go shopping or eat at this plaza."

The parking lot is free to patrons of the plaza -- the problem comes with a nearby beach and construction in the area.

A representative for RK Centers said that with all the construction happening in Sunny Isles, a large number of contractors and hotel guests have been parking illegally on their property, which is why they had to bring in a towing company.

It sometimes boils down to the judgment of the tow-truck driver to determine if a patron gets towed.

Julia Michniewicz said she was towed in October of 2014 when she parked at the Marshall's inside the plaza.  

"Before we walked in, (we) saw several tow trucks circling the parking lot, (but we) didn't think anything of it," she said.

Michniewicz said she paid for a pair of shoes, went back outside and her car was gone.

She said the towing company at the time, Westbrook Towing, charged her more than $100 and told her that she had parked illegally to go to the beach.

When she showed them her purchase receipt, they still weren't buying it.

"They claimed I could have walked to the beach, walked back bought something and said, 'Hey, I was here,'" Michniewicz said.

Michniewicz also asked for any surveillance video to prove that she was dressed professionally during her shopping trip, not in beach attire -- but there wasn't.

The property management company of RK Centers said they'd speak to Local 10 News off camera about the situation.  

The representative said parking in the plaza is a problem and there simply isn't that much of it. They said they take steps to keep spots for paying customers, instead of those just heading to the beach.

The management company said they do ask tow drivers to wait a period of time before towing, but it's still not clear if they need proof that a person left the property.

Shoppers have said that it's often a case of their word against the drivers. 

When a driver from Dolphin Towing was asked about the customer complaints, he declined to comment.

The previous company RK Centers used, Westbrook Towing -- the company that towed Julia Michniewicz – did give a little insight.

"They have, I guess, security guards or employees that say that somebody parked there and walked over," Otto Cruz, an employee of the tow company, said.

Cruz said once the car is towed, the driver has to take it up with the property owner.

"It's out of our hands," he said. "It's the law; it says it right there."

County regulations state towing companies need express authorization from the property owner.

Michniewicz said it took her months and filing a complaint with the county before she was reimbursed her $104.

"At this point, I don't see them attacking the beachgoers, I see them attacking the patrons," she said.

RK Centers representatives said that they will help get a refund for anyone who has been towed in their lot, as long as they have a valid receipt. 

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