Local News

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

Posted October 26, 2016 10:45 a.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2016 9:17 p.m. EDT

— 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.