A lawsuit alleges the city of Santa Monica is towing vehicles of unlicensed drivers and illegally refusing to return them while charging hundreds in fees.

“They are not following basic California law in terms of what to do when a vehicle is impounded from an individual who is unlicensed,” said civil rights attorney Christian Contreras.

Contreras represents a Santa Monica street vendor who says he was pulled over for a broken tail light and cited for driving without a license, then denied the opportunity to get his car back. Meanwhile, the vehicle is racking up “hundreds and hundreds of dollars in fees,” Contreras said.

“The law says that if you have an agent — here, my client’s brother … a licensed driver — the city has to give that person, the registered owner, their property. Simply because you’re unlicensed doesn’t mean you can’t sell the vehicle; you can have someone else with a license use it,” he said.

Edin Enamorado, a street vendor activist, said he thinks street vendors are targeted in this way.

“They know they don’t have a license because they are undocumented and they are taking advantage of that fact,” Enamorado said.

The lawsuit accuses the city of violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as targeting Black or brown people and people of low means.

“The City of Santa Monica has just received this information and needs time to evaluate thoroughly to provide an accurate response. At this time, the City is unable to provide more information or a position on this lawsuit,” the city said in a statement.