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Despite predatory feel, Raleigh can't kick vehicle boot prices

Posted October 26
Updated October 27

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— Austin Schultz, who works for Unlimited Recovery, talks on his cellphone as he keeps an eye on people parking and leaving private lots behind businesses on Hillsborough Street.

When he determines a car parks illegally, he doesn't call for a tow truck. Instead, he slaps a boot on the wheel.

While the technique is effective at detaining illegally parked cars, it isn't necessarily heralded by City of Raleigh officials.

"Well, it's certainly innovative, but not in a good way," said Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary Ann Baldwin.

Baldwin doesn't like the boot brigade that holds cars hostage for a fee – cash or credit card on the spot.

"I don't think that booting people when they pull into a parking lot is really fair," Baldwin said.

The fee to get the boot taken off isn't pocket change, either: Schultz said taking the boot off of a car costs $75.

Will Talbot shelled out $80 to get his car back because Unlimited Recovery doesn't offer change.

"Every business has a rule and a place, but there's also a dignity and working within reason," Talbot said.

A Raleigh ordinance caps towing fees at $100 and prohibits towing companies from charging more than half that if the driver returns before the car is gone. But a 2014 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling made the cap moot.

Trey Allen from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government says the case, King v. Town of Chapel Hill, took away much of cities' power to regulate suspected predatory towing.

Chapel Hill put standards on signage, the use of mobile phones and, like Raleigh, how much towing companies could charge, but the Supreme Court tossed out everything except the signs.

"Local governments can't limit what private businesses may charge unless they have express statutory authority," Allen said.

In Raleigh, Baldwin wants state lawmakers to step in to find a fair balance for drivers and businesses.

"They're spending money so their customers can park there," Baldwin said. "So, you want to be protective of that, but you don't want to abuse that — and that's where the fine line is."

On top of the Supreme Court ruling, Raleigh and other cities created ordinances to address towing but did not address wheel locks.

"It's really a work-around of the law," Baldwin said. "So, maybe what we need to look at is how do we ensure that the law is fair to everybody."

While Baldwin agrees booting may act as a parking deterrent, it doesn't immediately clear spaces. So, the question remains: Is booting cars about protecting parking spaces or making money?

"If it's about making money, that's the wrong way to make money," Baldwin said.

Booted drivers, such as Chamero Campos, agree.

"I think they're just trying to make money off people. That's what it is," Campos said.

17 Comments

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  • Linda Levine Oct 28, 8:17 p.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    It wasn't Kmart but the owner of the shopping center. He is into predatory towing and has tried to use it to close down the McDonald's there so he could buy that land and sell it.

  • Stacie Hagwood Oct 28, 5:29 p.m.
    user avatar

    The problem is that there is no way to keep the tow companies in check. They can boot anyone with little recourse.

  • Aiden Audric Oct 28, 4:35 p.m.
    user avatar

    I parked behind a pizza shop across from NC State back in the day. Got towed.

    Went to the tow shop (used to be by 5 Star).

    I had a sales receipt from the pizza place with a time stamp within 5 minutes of the tow.

    The woman at the desk went from smiles to screaming in a matter of moments - yelling that I had to pay up if I wanted my car, that I was illegally parked, that I couldn't park there, that I didn't know what I was talking about... then a guy came in from the back.

    I was thinking "oh, great, I'm toast" - he took my receipt, compared it to their records, and told her to give me my car without charge.

    When they got firebombed a few months later there weren't any people in Raleigh who were shocked or upset. I felt bad that a local business was attacked, but at the same time they had a reputation for being very predatory.

    Guess they went a way too far for way too long, and started being reasonable way too late.

    And, no, it wasn't me who torched the place :)

  • John Ragan Oct 28, 3:49 p.m.
    user avatar

    The answer to this dilemma is simple, as are most with downtown Raleigh. Just don't go there

  • Kelly Birdsall Oct 28, 1:17 p.m.
    user avatar

    KMART by triangle town center allowed these slime balls to do this, like anyone ever shopped there & how would you know if they were or not anyway. Well guess what, KMART went out of business!! Boo hoo! You know what they say about karma!!

  • New Holland Oct 28, 11:18 a.m.
    user avatar

    Back in my days at NCSU, the lots were often shared by 2-3 businesses, but you had to park in the 3-4 spaces the store you were going to owned, not sure if that still holds down there, but i never got a ticket but saw lots of students that did.
    I bought a little 125cc motorcycle and could ride it to school and park just about anywhere for free.
    Problem here is see is who's the judge and jury here, the booter, looking to make the $$$, not exactly a fair fight.

  • Amy Whaley Oct 28, 10:37 a.m.
    user avatar

    Wonder if Baldwin also thinks that it is not fair for the business owners of these lots to lose customers because of those who want to illegally park without any repercussion. Should we create a safe place for those who get booted?

  • Steve Willyg Oct 28, 8:22 a.m.
    user avatar

    Here is a simple fix! Boycott the business that allow these snakes to hide and operate with their authority! These tow companies act on other's behalf, penalize them both financially by not doing business with either!

  • Kevin Weidner Oct 28, 8:14 a.m.
    user avatar

    WRAL's Crack reporting fails to mention the requirement that parking areas that enforce towing or booting are required by law to have sign posted at each entrance designating parking rules, and the name and phone number of the towing company under contract to monitor the area. Towing companies are not allowed to simply cruise parking lots and tow vehicles at will. Towing companies are contracted by the various businesses where Towing is allowed to enforce their respective parking policies. Blaming the Towing companies for "predatory practices" overlooks the personal responsibility placed on drivers under the guise of "Its just not fair". Once again, the fallback excuse for those who can't or won't follow the rules.

  • Bryan Ayers Oct 28, 7:25 a.m.
    user avatar

    The towing companies / boot installers are purely predatory snakes. Try a courtesy Warning first to the owner of the illegally parked vehicle - the Boot man could walk the lot & notify the car owner that he/she is illegally parked, then install a boot after person opts to leave the car where it is.

    Nope. Scratch that idea - It would never happen...

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