Truck vanishes, couple learns important lesson about apartment’s power

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A truck vanishes overnight. Now, an Albuquerque couple has learned an important lesson about how much leeway apartment complexes have when it comes to cars parked on their properties.

When Shelby Mariani and Justin Stepp, wife and husband, woke up Thursday morning, they were baffled after realizing their truck was gone from the lot at Executive East Apartments near Menaul and Moon.

They raced to view their surveillance video that overlooks the complex parking lot.

“At first I thought I thought somebody was trying to steal it,” Mariani said, “An unmarked white pickup truck pulling up, looking inside of it, looking all around it with a flashlight.”

Then a tow truck came and took it away.

The couple discovered it was because their truck had an expired registration sticker, but they tell KRQE News 13 that its new sticker is on the way and that the registration was good.

“It’s in the mail. There’s nothing I could do about the mail or when MVD sends it,” Stepp said.

Turns out, it’s an incredibly common rule at apartment complexes — that any car parked in their lot has to appear to be street legal and operable.

“We got properties that want us to tow. We got properties that want us to boot. We got properties that want us to warn them,” Ron Purcella said.

Purcella owns South Valley Boot, which is the company Executive East apartments uses to do parking enforcement. He’s contracted by multiple Albuquerque complexes.

Purcella says the point of his job is keep complexes clear of junk and stolen cars.

“They just needed to run the plate and see that it was registered through the [MVD] and that’s where they messed up,” Mariani said.

However, Purcella says he cannot do that.

“We’re not APD. We’re not the Sheriff’s Department. We can’t legally look at plates and run them because it’s actually a violation of their rights,” he said.

His suggestion is to display the temporary registration in the vehicle. Although, that doesn’t sit well with this couple.

“To post my temporary registration in the back window that displays all my information? Name, address, everything that a criminal would need,” Stepp argued.

But it’s either that or the truck continues to get towed.

“That’s what I need for my wife and the baby, to get to work and emergencies, anything that may arise,” Stepp said.

“I understand their frustration, and I told them like I tell everybody — I don’t want their vehicles. I don’t want their vehicles. I’m just here to enforce the rules,” Purcella said.

The couple is now struggling to come up with the money they need to get the truck back. They have to pay a $75 fine to South Valley Boot, along with the towing company fees.

The towing company says it is offering the couple a major discount after hearing their story. The company also clarified that while it can run plates, it has no legal obligation to do so when called by South Valley Boot to haul a car away.

The apartment complex manager says it is working with the couple as they try to pay both rent and the fees from this incident.

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