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Aldermen debate pros, cons of booting vehicles on private lots

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) convinced a City Council committee to endorse making his ward the 18th to ban private booting and demanded a citywide appeals process to rein in a practice that he said “feels predatory.”

A boot attached to a vehicle in Chicago.
Motorists may be more familiar with the city booting their vehicles over unpaid parking tickets. But some owners of private lots also boot vehicles parked where they don’t belong.
Sun-Times file photo

Private booters roaming free in more than half of Chicago’s 50 wards were banned from the 1st Ward Wednesday by the local alderman, who demanded a citywide appeals process to rein in a process of booting on private property that “feels predatory.”

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) demanded citywide standards for private booting as aldermen debated the pros and cons of allowing local merchants to contract with private companies to patrol lots and prevent motorists from parking in spaces reserved for their customers.

La Spata said he understands the “need for enforcement of private property rights related to parking spots.”

What concerns him is the “the lack of a formal appeals process” for motorists booted on or towed from private parking and the barrage of resulting complaints from motorists demanding that he intervene.

“If the city wishes this private booting practice to continue as an alternative to towing, it would be beneficial to consider an equal, citywide licensing process for all wards and a citywide appeals process that would be uniform and allow residents a chance to have their complaints assessed in an equal, formalized manner,” the alderman said.

La Spata said he asked the License Committee to do what it did Wednesday — make his ward the 18th to ban private booting — only after a private booting company operating in his ward refused to give motorists a verbal warning.

“We have tried really hard to come to an arrangement with them that would be acceptable to both them and our residents. But to hear from them that they’re not willing to even offer a verbal warning to folks before a boot is put on their cars was really unacceptable,” he said.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) couldn’t agree more about the need for citywide standards.

“Rather than fix the problem, you fix the system that causes the problem so that each ward doesn’t have to repeat the same thing,” Cappleman said.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) agreed “some type of appeals process” is needed for motorists whose vehicles are disabled on private lots.

But Taliaferro also argued private booting has been a crime-fighter in his West Side ward.

“I had a location that had prostitution in the parking lots, drug sales, gang activity. … There were shootings in the parking lot. And when we brought in the private booting company, that turned around 100%,” said Taliaferro, a former Chicago police officer.

“We’ve not had one call for service in that location because of drug sales and prostitution that was happening there.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) urged his colleagues not to judge private booting based on one-sided complaints.

“We’re not getting complaints from people who are frustrated that they couldn’t get a parking spot. And we’re not necessarily getting complaints from the businesses,” Hopkins said.

“Nobody likes to get booted. But when you pull into a parking lot and you are a patron of that store and you want to park in that lot and you can’t park in that lot because there are no spots available, you might complain to yourself. You might mutter under your breath. But you’re not gonna call the ward office to complain.”

Over the years, the burgeoning use of private booting has been mired in controversy.

In 1999, the City Council moved to prohibit private booting amid reports of price-gouging and fisticuffs.

Eighteen months later, aldermen put the weapon back in the arsenal of neighborhood retailers with the consent of the local alderman, provided booting companies obtain city licenses and abide by strict regulations governing everything from fees, insurance and signs to staffing and credit card payments.

In 2004, private booters were further required to wait 15 minutes after a vehicle is parked before booting and to post signs informing motorists who return to their vehicles before the boot is fully applied of their right to demand removal at no charge.

Three years ago, aldermen ignored price-gouging concerns and empowered private booters roaming free in more than half of Chicago’s 50 wards to raise boot removal fees by $30 in exchange for stiffer regulations.

In exchange for the 21.4 percent fee hike, the city’s four private booters were required to: pay a $1,000 licensing fee every two years; remove the boot at no charge if the owner returns to the lot before the boot is fully applied; register each location where the company is operating and pay a $100 fee for each site and put their employees in uniforms and train them on boot installation and removal.

They were further required to offer a 24-hour hotline accessible to consumers with questions and complaints and place signs at the entrance and exits to all lots.