DES MOINES, Iowa — Why are all those rental cars with Iowa license plates hogging so many parking spaces along the streets in a nice neighborhood of Victorian homes in Brooklyn, N.Y?
That's what Joel Siegel, president of the Ditmas Park West Neighborhood Association, wants to know. He's written to the Iowa Department of Transportation, the Iowa Insurance Division and New York government administrators and politicians trying to get some answers.
Maj. Paul Steier, commander of the Iowa DOT's motor vehicle enforcement investigative unit, says Iowa investigators are working with New York authorities in an effort to find out what's going on.
Siegel provided a list of 20 cars with Iowa plates parked in his neighborhood, but Steier said Iowa investigators have linked about 200 cars with Iowa plates — mostly from Polk and Linn counties — to the firms that have registered the vehicles parked in Siegel's neighborhood. It's not clear exactly how many of those 200 vehicles are being driven in New York, Iowa officials said.
One possibility is that the rental cars have been registered in Iowa in an effort to secure lower insurance rates, as first reported this week by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
New York has the nation's third-highest car insurance premiums — with a median of $1,062 per vehicle. Iowa has the third-lowest auto premiums at a median of $530, according to Bankrate.com
"Insurance companies want to know where a vehicle is garaged and operated. The reason is that the risk is different. Even within a city you can have a neighborhood that is rated differently," said Tom Alger, communications director for the Iowa Insurance Division.
Siegel says the business responsible for the rental cars parked in his neighborhood — which is within the larger Victorian Flatbush area — operates under several names.
A call by The Des Moines Register to the business on Thursday was picked up by an answering service, and a message seeking comment from the rental firm's manager was not immediately returned.
Steier said it's not uncommon for cars with out-of-state license plates to be parked at the Des Moines airport, for example.
But under Iowa law, a vehicle with out-of-state plates can't be used indefinitely in Iowa without being registered here. Other states have similar statutes. As a result, Iowa investigators are asking New York authorities if they can determine whether there has been any violation of a New York law.
Iowa officials are also attempting to learn if the vehicles were properly registered and titled in Iowa. For example, businesses can't use Iowa license plates for their vehicles using false addresses and false federal identification numbers, Steier said.
"Our investigation is wide open on the motivating factors behind why these cars have ended up in New York with Iowa plates," Steier added. This includes the possibility that criminal activity, ranging from drugs to human trafficking, could be involved.
But Siegel, who is a Manhattan lawyer, is mostly concerned that the rental cars are a pain in the neck for his neighbors, making it harder for them to park their own cars on the street.
"Obviously the guy who owns the business doesn't have sufficient parking to store his cars. This is not Des Moines, Iowa, with all due respect to Des Moines," Siegel said. "The bottom line is that we want the cars to be stored somewhere, not on our streets."