Towing fees from deserted lot cost Edmonton woman $300

The Chinatown Mall looks deserted, with fading signs and boarded up windows. But an Edmonton woman who parked in its empty lot warns the decision cost her almost $300 and left her questioning the lack of regulations on towing fees.

'We were a bit surprised by the price of this but we just wanted our car back'

The Chinatown Mall at 94th Street and Jasper Avenue appears deserted, but people who park there will be towed. (CBC)

The Chinatown Mall looks deserted, with fading signs and boarded up windows.

But an Edmonton woman who parked in its empty lot is out almost $300 and is now questioning the lack of regulations on towing fees.

"Two hundred-and-eighty dollars was way beyond what I even expected to be reasonable," said Arden Pang. "That's when I started thinking, is it OK to be charged this arbitrary cost to get your car back?"

Invoice for $280 to retrieve vehicle

Pang went to The Moth restaurant last week for lunch with her mother. There was no available parking at the restaurant on the east end of Jasper Avenue, so they left their car in the lot next door.

The strip mall appears to be abandoned, but there are several "No parking" signs posted around the lot.

Pang said she and her mother were in a rush and didn't notice the signs. When they came out about an hour later, their car was gone.

After several hours — and dozens of phone calls to towing companies and the city impound lot — Pang returned to where she first parked her car. That's when she spotted a small sign stating vehicles would be towed by a company called "M.S.I." with a phone number to call.

"It was very odd because they gave us an address that was 11240 149th St.," she said "We got lost looking for this, because there was no sign for this business. I called this man again, and the man said I'll be outside and I'll wave at you."
A 'No Parking' sign posted at the empty Chinatown Mall at 94th Street and Jasper Avenue. (CBC)

They eventually connected with the man on the phone. They were handed an invoice for $280.

"We were a bit surprised by the price of this," she said. "But we just wanted our car back, so we ended up paying the price.

"I think most people would immediately think, 'It's my fault, I parked on private property. It's my fault that I got towed, so I won't follow it up."

Pang said she understands the owner had the right to tow the car. But she is concerned by how much towing companies are permitted to charge.

Rates usually 'competitive'

City bylaws allow property owners to tow vehicles left on private property. But the bylaws stipulate there must be appropriate signs that warn it's a no parking zone.

From there, the property owner decides how to deal with the vehicle.

Some owners may contact the city to have the vehicle towed to the Police Seized Impound Lot. If that happens, there's a set list of prices, which include:

  • $126 for a standard tow
  • $2.25 per loaded kilometre for any kilometres travelled over 10 kilometres
  • $40 per day storage fee

"Other tow companies in the city can charge whatever they choose to charge," said Rick Long, manager at the Police Seized Vehicle Section. "But generally the rates are pretty competitive. Most of the rates you'll find at different organizations are relatively similar."

Towing companies sometimes charge extra fees for special equipment that must be used to remove some cars, or if the car is being towed a long distance.

Service Alberta said it has received fewer than a dozen complaints about towing fees in the past two years. The department confirms there are no regulations or laws that cap the fees.
Arden Pang paid almost $300 to get her car back after getting towed from a private lot. (CBC)

Warning signs at businesses

The parking enforcement at the Chinatown Mall has been so strict that business owners at The Moth and the neighbouring Syphay restaurant have put up signs, warning clients about the towing.

The mall itself is owned by a numbered company.

A man who answered the phone at M.S.I. Developments, which is listed as the towing company, said he simply stores the vehicles, while the mall's owners have contracted another company to do the actual towing.