Like anyone who loves their community and hates to see it get a bad rep, I cringe when I read columns like my friend Dan Casey’s piece in today’s Roanoke Times.
Dan tells the story of Cuc Cao, a Vietnamese woman who got ripped off twice: First by Hyundai Finance Company and again by Larry’s Towing & Recovery in Floyd County.
Larry’s is one of those towing companies that makes money off repossessing cars. In these hard economic times, the repo business is booming.
Cao’s daughter got behind on her payments for a 2006 Hyundai Tibron because of an illness in the family so the finance company repossessed the car and it was picked up by Larry’s Towing & Recovery.
Cao stepped in and paid off the loan, including a $412 "repossession fee."
But that wasn’t the end of the story. When Cao tried to reclaim the car, Larry’s wanted an additional $1,590 in "storage" charges. The "storage" charges were for parking the car in a field for 44 days plus a $50 "redemption" fee. That breaks down to $32 and change a day.
Let’s see: $1,440 for a month and a half’s rent for keeping a car in a lot off Alum Ridge Road in Floyd County. Hell, around here, you can rent a farm with a two-bedroom house for less. You can rent a car-sized storage unit for under $100 a month.
According to Accusearch, a repo firm that works in the New York and New Jersey Area, Larry’s storage fees are higher than the $25 they charge in the New York City metro area, which one of the highest costs of living in the nation. Some cities and counties in Virginia set limits on what a repo company can charge. Floyd County does not.
In many cases, repo companies also collect a storage fee from the bank or finance company that holds the lein on the car so they are collecting twice.
What makes the matter worse was the attitude at Larry’s when Casey tried to get to the bottom of the story. An employee wouldn’t give her full name. She promised to have the company’s attorneys contact the Times but no one ever did. Her response was that "we’ve done all that we can do."
Larry’s has suffered its own tragedies. The owner is paralyzed from the neck down from a wreck but that is no excuse for the sky-high storage charges assessed against Cao.
Cao, who fled Vietnam in 1981 and survived life in concentration camps before settling in Roanoke, earned a college degree and was honored as one of the city’s "moms of the year" in 1994. Her children graduated from North Cross School and one later earned a master’s degree and works for the Department of Defense in Hawaii.
She deserved better treatment in her adopted country and she deserves both an apology and at least a partial refund from Larry’s Towing & Recovery Service.