Got more than 5 parking tickets in LA? Your car won’t be impounded — yet

The City of Los Angeles has suspended impounding cars for unpaid parking tickets — at least for now.

According to an internal memo signed by Brian Hale, chief of parking enforcement for the city of LA, the city is stopping all towing and starting of vehicles in violation of the Fraud Ordinance, which mandates the seizure of vehicles that have accumulated five or more unpaid parking tickets.

The temporary suspension is the result of a pretrial ruling in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). A judge recently dismissed the city’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Koreatown resident Breonnah Fitzpatrick, who sued LADOT last summer after her car was seized, despite allegedly being parked legally .

Fitzpatrick admits she owed $9,000 on nearly 48 parking tickets, largely due to difficulties finding street parking in her high-density neighborhood when many people work from home.

LADOT told Fitzpatrick that her car would not be released until she paid $5,000 of the debt. His attorney, Donald W. Cook, says the city’s foreclosure practice is reminiscent of the tactics of fictional mobster, Tony Soprano.

“Whatever the merits of the dispute between the car owner and the city over parking tickets, you’re not forcing payment by taking the car and holding it for ransom, which the city was doing.”

Cook says the ordinance unfairly targets the most economically disadvantaged Angelenos, often people of color who cannot afford parking or garage services.

“The victims will be people like Breonnah Fitzpatrick, people who make just enough to pay the bills and don’t have the resources to fight city hall over this kind of practice. Most of the people the city collects money from, such as parking tickets, tend to be people on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

Cook estimates that some 4,000 cars are towed each year due to unpaid parking tickets. He says his client understands the possible ripple effects of her lawsuit against the city.

“It’s not just a lawsuit in his own name. This is a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of people each year whose car has been towed.

Cook adds that vehicle owners are becoming aware of city parking and impounding practices in the regions, and that city governments may face other legal challenges in the future.

“Cities are facing a real problem with these daily practices that they use to seize cars. They are facing serious constitutional challenges from a number of different courts and a number of different states that are starting to have a real impact on how they can extort payments from car owners” , Cook said.

LADOT will always tow vehicles for other reasons, including those that are improperly parked or pose a hazard to traffic.

KCRW has contacted the city attorney’s office about the pound change, but has yet to receive a response.

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