SEATTLE -- Meet Chris Swanicke who just turned 25 and got a bit of a birthday surprise.

He parked his Mazda truck, November 18, in a prohibited, private spot in front of his Capitol Hill apartment building. An hour and a half later, he came out and his car was gone.

It made for a very happy birthday, said Swanicke.

Swanicke admits he was wrong to park there but the fee, he says, is like legal theft.

You can't take somebody's property and hold it and say we'll charge whatever we want for it basically, said Swanicke. It's a form of extortion...that's legal.

He called Citywide Towing right away and arrived to pick up his truck the very next day. The bill: a $798 shocker.

That's more than I pay in rent each month, said Swanicke.

Getting towed from a public street is much cheaper because cities contract with towing companies for lower rates. Washington state does not regulate private tow fees. Other states like Minnesota (cap is at $212), Indiana (cap is at $150), and Oregon do (cap is at $157).

But a private spot in Seattle? It appears to be whatever the tow company wants to charge.

I don't want it to happen to other people. It's probably something that's happening every Friday and Saturday night, said Swanicke.

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