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[January 21, 2013]
Leeward tow company faces eviction
Jan 21, 2013 (The Honolulu Star-Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The city's exclusive vendor for handling police-initiated vehicle tows on Oahu could be evicted from the Kapolei lot serving as its headquarters because the company owes back rent dating to March and has failed to correct solid waste-related violations at the property, according to a lawsuit filed by the property owner.
Leeward Auto Wreckers' failure to comply with a state Department of Health order to correct the violations triggered a $15,700 fine in June that still hasn't been paid, the agency said last week.
The company, which took over the city contract Nov. 1, also has been hit with $1,000 in fines by the city for multiple infractions, including overcharging nearly 250 customers for towing and mileage fees through mid-December, according to the city. The city has ordered the company to refund the overpayments.
The company's overcharging practices, which Leeward Auto blamed on misinterpretation of city documents, were first disclosed by the Star-Advertiser.
Alpha BT LLC, which owns the 2.5-acre Kapolei lot on Kuhela Street, filed a lawsuit last week asking a state judge to order Leeward Auto to vacate the property where the towing company has its main office and stores towed vehicles.
Leeward Auto owes nearly $56,000 in delinquent rent and has failed to correct the Health Department violations, according to the lawsuit.
During a May inspection, the department discovered that Leeward Auto was storing scrap iron and old appliances at the property, even though the company's permit allows only for the storage of waste vehicles, agency records show.
The company also has failed to submit test samples and a remediation plan to deal with possible health or environmental hazards resulting from a January 2012 explosion and fire at the site, the documents show.
The company did not respond to Star-Advertiser email and phone requests for comment.
The $1,000 in city fines is designed to ensure good service and contract compliance, rather than to take punitive actions, according to city spokesman Johnny Brannon.
Part of that amount stemmed from Leeward Auto's failure to provide the city with timely notice of the discontinued use of a Pearl City storage lot, Brannon said.
The Pearl City lot was the largest of five sites the company told the city it would use to store towed vehicles. Yet it has not been used for the first two months of the contract.
A spokesman for the property owner said the owner is working with Leeward Auto, which had been behind in rent, to allow it to continue using the site.
Brannon said in a written statement that the city is monitoring what happens with Leeward Auto's lots to ensure the public is well served.
"To meet its contractual obligations, Leeward must have access to adequate vehicle storage facilities and provide an acceptable level of service to motorists," Brannon wrote. "The company's potential loss of a particular storage lot would not necessarily prevent it from meeting its obligations." The city also is closely monitoring Leeward Auto's performance and billing practices, he said.
This is the first time the city has given responsibility to one company to handle tows for the entire island. Previously the island was divided into zones, and contracts were awarded for each one.
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