UPDATED!: Hell Is the Harris County Admin Building

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Hope, abandoned

Updated at the end of the story

An Icelandic saga as written by Franz Kafka. That is the best way we can describe what happens when you attempt to register and transfer title to a car given to you as a gift by your dad who lives out of state.

Through what is now four trips to the Harris County Administration building and a few other trips around town, we have learned that the world's most infamously mind-numbing bureaucracies -- post-colonial India, Anwar Sadat's Egypt, Brezhnev's Soviet Union -- have nothing on our own red tape merchants on Preston Street.

My personal odyssey began several months ago. Honestly, I forget now how my first attempt was rebuffed. I think it had something to do with not following the precise order of battle you must undertake to get this done. First you show proof of insurance, then you get the car inspected, then you bring all of that back downtown and they will give you your sticker and your Texas license plate.

I think I was sent away the first time because I didn't have the right proof of insurance form. No biggie. I obtained that, returned to Preston Street, and that was when I learned that I needed to have the car -- a jet-black 2001 Toyota Corolla with over 110,000 miles on it -- inspected before I could proceed further. I was also told that I must prove that "Dark Star," as my Grateful Dead-loving dad had dubbed it, had been a gift. I was given a form to send to my dad in Nashville -- he would have to sign a statement declaring the gift and have it notarized there, return it to me, where I too could sign it and have it notarized in Texas.

So I drove Dark Star up to a garage on North Shepherd and had it inspected. It passed with flying colors. After several weeks' delay, I finally sent the form to my dad, and he returned it with the necessary adornments.

I was now ready for my third trip to Preston Street; I brought along proof of insurance, the title, and my driver's license, and the now-well-traveled, twice-notarized gift affidavit. It was then that I discovered that I had mislaid the V-130, a document proving that Dark Star had been inspected. "That's all you need," said the lady behind the glass. "You'll be good to go after that."

Fair enough. Losing that certificate is on me. But shouldn't the fact that it was inspected be in a computer somewhere? Can't they verify that? Apparently not. That same day, I raced up North Shepherd to the garage where it had been inspected. The receptionist there, an older black lady with the severe look of a school principal, looked at me sternly. "Well, I can't give you that form," she said.

‎"But how can I get my car inspected if you won't give it to me?" I asked.
"Yeah, I know, that's a problem," she told me.

She called one of the owners of the garage on the phone, and that person didn't know what to do.

queueDM2.jpg
You're gonna be here for a while.
While that impasse was ongoing, the other owner of the garage walked in. The receptionist asked him about my situation. He told her he could fix it. He vanishes for ten minutes and comes back with two Xeroxes of my inspection cert., one color, one black-and-white.

I race back downtown. I was on the cusp! Last time, the lady told me this was all I needed!

And this time, the line is almost clear out the door to Preston Street. It's 1:45. I have to be out in West U to pick up my daughter at 2:50. I bite the bullet and wait. And wait and wait and wait, and watch as person after person leaves the building scowling and without license plates or papers.

Some are turned away because unlike every Quick E Mart in town, and even some taco trucks I know, Harris County don't take them-there fancy-schmancy credit card thingamajigs. Others lack one of the half-dozen documents it takes to get this crap done.

Meanwhile, the utterly indolent women at the counter seem exhausted by each of their customers; so taxing they find them, they must adjourn back into their lair for cookies and long pulls off Big Gulps and banter sessions with their colleagues before they can rejoin their sendings-away.

I get to the window at 2:40. I am armed for bear. I array the sheaf of documents on the counter -- the license, the insurance, the twice-notarized affidavit that has now traveled over 1,500 miles, and my two copies of my proof of inspection.

The lady says that might be a problem -- they want originals. I told her that was not what I had been told earlier that same goddamn day. The lady had told me I needed to bring "a copy" of this V-130 thingy, not a new original, and the people at the garage had refused to give me one. I point to the Big Gulp-slurper next to the one in front of me. "She told me 'a copy'," I said. "Your buddy, right there." Meanwhile, my lady keeps on processing my application, finding new places where I forgot to sign my name, which I do, my knuckles white on the pen. And yet I still think I am on my way...

‎We are almost done now. "Okay, let me just see about this," she says, picking up the color copy of the V-130. She goes back and talks to the Supervising Big Gulp Slurper. I see this woman narrow her eyes and shake her head, the faintest tuggings of a smile on her face. Well now, this was something they didn't get to see every day! A copy of the V-130! This is an exotic way to send someone away!

I know the jig is up before my Big Gulper returns. She tells me I am close, so close. I just have to go back to North Shepherd and pay the garage $2 for a freshly-filled-out new original V-130.
And then she tells me I would be paying a mere $97 the next time I return to Preston Street, and walking out of there with my plates and fresh title.

Unless and until they find some new, even more exotic, way to fuck me. At that point, I lost it. I was now late to pick up my daughter, on top of everything else.

"It's not worth it driving a car!" I shout. Lame, I know, but it was the best I could muster.

I snatch back my license, and as I try to stuff it back in my wallet, everything -- credit cards, Metro Q-Card, vintage Harris County library card, the business cards of 17 pushy Chase personal bankers -- falls out of it and scatters on the floor. As I attempt to restuff my wallet with as much dignity as I can muster, I expect to hear laughter and catcalls behind me, but instead can hear people sympathizing, saying stuff like 'Poor guy, waited all that time..."

Back on Preston Street in front of this Dante-esque ring of mind-numbing hell, a bum asks me for money. I tell him, "I don't have any goddamn money." "Dude, man, sorry I asked," he said. (Here's a tip to all you panhandlers or those considering said career: find a better spot than just outside these inferno-portals.)

And then as I am jaywalking across Fannin towards my still-illegal Dark Star, a silver-haired John O'Quinn wannabe in a gunmetal-gray convertible Porsche honks at me 'cause he wants to do 60 miles an hour all the way down to the next light 50 whole yards away.

I flip him off and hope he wants to hop out and fight. He doesn't, sadly.

UPDATE, May 5. On a freakishly cold morning in early May, we tacked off into stiff Norther back up to the garage where Dark Star was inspected. It took the owner about 20 minutes, but he finally produced a duplicate copy of my inspection certificate. He even waived the $2 fee I'd been expecting.

Bright and early the day after that, armed now with my driver's license, Tennessee title, certificate of inspection, proof of insurance, and twice-signed and twice-notarized gift affidavit, I took a co-worker's advice and headed to the Mickey Leland Courthouse Annex on North Shepherd. Although I arrived a little before eight, I was dismayed to see a huge line snaking through the lobby of the building, but was pleasantly astounded at the speed it moved. I soon saw why: whereas you are lucky if four windows are open at the Preston Street building, this one had eleven, each one going great guns.

After about 15 minutes, I was summoned forth. I arrayed my sheaf of documents before the woman behind the glass. She inspected each one with care, and found yet another place on the title that I had forgotten to sign -- one that the last lady downtown had apparently also missed. Then she handed me something called a Certificate of Visual Inspection. On it, I was to fill in my name, address and Dark Star's VIN. And yes, this was yet another step the people downtown had evidently not known I was supposed to take.

As it happens, my title was almost impossible to read, as it is printed on the green-paper title in tiny print that also happens to be green. (I'd had to take my contacts out to do so, originally, and that was not an option there.) What's more, my handwriting is terrible.

"Aw hell no," the woman said when she looked at my first attempt. "You're gonna have to write better than that." She handed me another copy to fill in.

This one was legible, but upon close inspection, the County woman discovered that I had mistaken a "C" on the title for a "6." She handed it back to me. I crossed out the C and wrote a 6 above it and pushed the document back to her. "Naw, we can't have that either," she said, and wadded it up and threw it away. She then handed me a third form to fill in. Which I managed to do to her satisfaction.

"You have really terrible handwriting," she said. I laughed and told her that it was kind of ironic, because I was a writer. She was stamping forms, chuckling, everything was going along well. But she wasn't quite done with me yet.

"Boy, take that pen out your mouth!" she exclaimed when she looked up from my papers. That was a little odd. I could understand if it was was hers, but this was my pen. Still, I was startled enough to instantly comply.

And after that, it was soon enough all over. I now have not one but two up-to-date stickers in Dark Star's front windshield, and a Texas plate on the back. And yet I am not quite done yet. Tennessee does not require front license plates, and Dark Star does not even have a mount for one. So it looks like I'll be heading back up to that garage where this all started, one last time.


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18 comments
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Hcremodeling2009

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9sparksfly
9sparksfly

Try the courthouse in Clear Lake - it is AMAZING. Even with a no-go, you're in and out in under 15 minutes.

lawreviewed
lawreviewed

You are such a whiny loser. 1) you did not fill out the forms correctly. 2) YOU lost the inspection form, not the County "big gulpers." Do you always expect people to wait on you hand and foot, and explain every step (which is also explained in writing on the website)?

How would you feel if someone stole your car, drove it to another state and was able to get clear title by just standing there and acting like an asshole? The process attempts to avoid just that.

granted county employees are generally lazy, rude, and not helpful. Here you cut the legs from under any point you try to make by making it clear that you lost forms, failed to complete other forms, and generally suck at life.

Good day sir,

Next please!

Eileen
Eileen

Dang, I have a car from Washington State from my brother. Will be paid for in about 6 months. I am afraid to transfer the title. Have insurance and Texas plates. Maybe I won't bother...

Hnritt
Hnritt

Hilarious!!! I have had a similar experience. I finally drove to Wharton to take care of my business. Yes, it is 1 1/2 hours outside of town but they are nice, there was no line, and I got what I needed in about 30 minutes! What a joke!

Flash
Flash

So what do you suppose is the carbon footprint of these plates?

Silas
Silas

Note the name "lawreviewed", people. Couple that with the message "sure, the system is fucked, but you're to blame if you have any problem with it" and you have what is obviously a lawyer.

This is why lawyers don't have many friends outside of other lawyers and people who can afford to have lawyers do things for them.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Note that I didn't start my whining until I got to the part where I returned from the garage with the only materials they would relinquish to me, which also happened to be what I had been told I needed to bring, and was turned down for the fourth time.

I admitted my earlier mistakes and copped to them. Jeez, someone's got a bad case of the Mondays here.

9sparksfly
9sparksfly

Oh, no it's not - I've attempted to transfer the title to a car I got in a divorce three times, now. I consistently get different answers from different representatives each and every time I've tried - both in phone, and in person. It depends entirely on the generosity and the compassion of the person standing in front of you. I've been told to bring my divorce certificate - I've been given hell for a name change - I've had outrageous taxes thrown on me (incorrectly, as my lawyer explained - MY LAWYER! - that cars awarded in divorces aren't subject to income/gift taxation (this, by the way is NOWHERE on their website, and NO ONE that I've called seems to know about this EXCEPT my lawyer)). Hell - I've even received advice from those same employees on "getting around" requirements!

This process doesn't attempt to circumvent would-be car thieves (and at any rate, my alarm system/local police force do a MUCH better job). This process primarily seeks to enforce tax code.

The county offices in this city - procedurally and insofar as they're staffed - are ridiculous and byzantine.

FYI, I've NEVER been asked for a V-130.

lawreviewed
lawreviewed

Come on Eileen, I am sure you can actually fill out forms and follow directions. Nova Lomax seems to forget that sometimes processes are in place to protect people, inter alia, title transfers. Also, it is advisable not to lose the very form you are instructed to secure and present to effect a title transfer.

Laurie
Laurie

I went to the courthouse off of Clay when I first moved here from Michigan and got it all taken care of that day. Boy was that a long day. They wouldnt let my mother - who came down with me say it was a gift - they made her put a value on the 10 year old Plymouth Acclaim so they could tax me.

Buddy Englett
Buddy Englett

I concur, you're better off going to one of the outer-lying county courthouses. The people that work downtown have been turned into trolls by working so long in that dungeon of a place.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Forgot to mention, I rode my bike on a couple of the failed missions, so a little lower than it could have been.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Exactly. How does the twice-notarized affidavit have anything to do with stopping theft?

John Lomax
John Lomax

Lawreviewed, I reiterate: I did not start whining until I was told:A) to get "a copy" of said document and return downtown, whereupon I would be done with the process;B) When I went to get "a copy" of that document, the garage would not give me a new original and told me a Xerox would be fine;C) And then when I returned downtown, I was told that "a copy" would not suffice and that I would have to return to the garage and downtown for a fifth trip.

Please note, all of this has to do with my inspection sticker, not my car title.

Also, you never mentioned how that twice-signed-and-notarized gift affidavit has anything to do with protecting me from car theft.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Someones a ray of sunshine.

9sparksfly
9sparksfly

As I can't reply directly to lawreviewed's followup regarding the state of my gonads/car sitch...

a) I am - was - the wife, and my ex-husband is fully cooperative. I *wish* it was simply an issue of obtaining his signature. I paid off a car in his name, and recently - our divorce was over three years ago. The time lapse has created issues in and of itself.

While I certainly appreciate the allusion to my testicular fortitude, "manning up" has nothing to do with this particular situation. We've attempted to transfer title three times, and each time has ended in futility for multiple reasons NOT listed out online and NOT available as a phoned-in answer.

One was a name-change issue, one was a "copy vs. official version of divorce decree" issue, and one was a "gift vs. not-a-gift" issue. Again, NONE of these should have been issues (it was awarded to me in the decree regardless of when I chose/was able to transfer title, regardless of current last name - I've since remarried - and was not subject to gift/income taxation). This situation is not only not touched upon on their website, but is highly subject to the individual interpretation of the person standing behind the counter (substantiated by the universal response of, "She said WHAT to you? Oh, no, honey, THIS is what you need to do, and THIS is what you need to bring, and THIS is what you need to say...").

Like Mr. Lomax, I, too, was told that "a copy" would suffice, provided it bore the appropriate signatures. Naturally, when I got there, I needed the original. I absolutely take issue with that, and even you can hardly blame him for his ire. Fortunately, I was able to procure an original copy of my decree.

And did you know that both parties have to be present for this particular transaction to be facilitated? I didn't. It's nowhere on their website, and two of the four reps I spoke with weren't even aware of that condition. I'm not even convinced it's "real" - but I've been turned away for that, as well.

b) You seem to know more than anyone employed in the Harris County Admin offices. PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CONSIDER EMPLOYMENT THEREIN. I will 100% kowtow to your sanctimonious assumptions provided you get me in and out of the office in the "done and done" fashion you, against all odds, perceive.

lawreviewed
lawreviewed

Mr. Lomax, what you describe as an "Odyessy," may not be an attempt to transfer a car title for an out of state vehicle given to you by a relative but it sure appears to be just that.

You may, as you state, have just been trying to get an inspection sticker, but an inspection sticker is issued by a licensed vehicle inspection station, NOT harris county. So your complaints all lie at the feet of the inspection station. But you stated that they gave you the proper form. Oh yeah, you lost it.

The inspection is to make sure that the car is not polluting like an offshore BP rig as you drive down the highway. Its a car new to the state of Texas, and/or harris county. All cars in harris county must pass inspection. did you think you were special. They want you to PROVE you got the inspection. anyone can print up some crappy copy of an inspection report. As a 'journalist' I would hope that you appreciate the value of proof. Our government fortunately still requires it in car inspections, and in the courts. (houston press - not so much).

The Affidavit: This is a document stating that the car was given to you. It AVOIDS taxes if it is truly a gift.. (The moron that commented below, complaining about a gift tax in a divorce property settlement, is an idiot. If it was his car during the marriage it is his car now, he just needs to clear title - see link below).

Here is a GREAT FAQ section from "The Gulpers" superiors: http://www.tax.co.harris.tx.us....

Check the section about car titles.

The policy behind the affidavit, and how it helps prevent theft, is very simple. Every car has a title issued by the state where the car is initially purchased. Now, unlike houses, cars move very easily. Sometime people want to move the car to another state, permanently. Therefore the car title must move. A thief can obtain a fraudulent title, but it makes it much more difficult whith these requirements for them to get clear title and thus a marketable stolen car. It is a buffer to protect against someone taking a stolen car into another state and getting a new title without having to prove ownership. If you bought the car in another state, then you would have a bill of sale, and that states certificate of title signed by the previous owner. but you didnt Lomax, it was a gift.

The divorce loser just needs to get the title from his wife and man up and have her sign it. then file it, then done and done, title changes.

There are a thousand things wrong with county gov. Long lines at the vehicle reg. office are because morons like you FAIL TO READ AND FOLLOW WRITTEN INSTRUCTIONS!!!! So the next time you or anyone else goes to handle official business, you should know WTF you are doing BEFORE you waste "the gulpers" time. then the line would move smoothly,

Also there is an ATM right outside the door, slight omission on this HORRIBLE piece of crap of an article. Go back to reviewing the crappy bands you like.

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