CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It’s not hard to find emotions running high at a tight parking area near the 1900 block of 7th street.
It is where retailers like Heroes Comics, Dollar General and Crisp Restaurant call home. There are also a number of small businesses, like a dry cleaners and sub shop.
Recently, many customers of such establishments are finding that within minutes or seconds of getting out of their vehicles, they have been “booted.”
"I felt they were like predators, boot predators," says Valerie Walker.
Walker is among eight who recently filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau against United Towing.
The property manager had recently hired United Towing to actively monitor drivers who blatantly ignore the signs.
Walker says she is a faithful customer of the sub shop and has never had any problems before. Her complaint is that she was a paying customer and followed the rules.
"I went to the substation first, walked out of substation while they prepared the food and had gone to the Dollar General. I even showed him my receipt and he said I'm sorry. You just have to pay the money," Walker said.
Tim Harden says his company is getting a bad rap. He can’t be certain whether his employee mistakenly confused Walker’s situation, but says their method of operation is aimed at limiting confusion.
“We can’t keep up with how many are coming and going. So when the car pulls up, we watch where you go after getting out of your vehicle.”
Harden says the attendant waits for you to enter one of the three stores listed on the post.
“If you go to another store afterwards, we are not even watching you. We just see where you go when you are getting out of the car,” he says.
He adds he is doing the job he was hired to do.
Over the years, more retailers and restaurants have moved in, but no additional parking space was added. That has lead to a costly problem for business owners.
"These businesses are losing money because customers have nowhere to park and are going elsewhere," Harden said.
The owner of Substation II, recently renamed Submarine-Max, told NBC Charlotte that sales have actually increased this month and partly due to the added enforcement.
On Wednesday the restaurant had the highest sales in five years, and the owners believes it is because customers can now find parking quickly.
Harden says the enforcement does not apply to spots in the complex where a sign is not visible. It is not their job to “warn” drivers, for the signs should serve as warnings.
Walker paid the $50, and while she understands the rules now, she can't help question the logic behind it all.
"Why would I move my car to walk to the Dollar General, when I am at substation," says Walker.
Another complaint was that the company demanded “cash only.” Harden says credit card payments have always been an option, but attendants may want to see your ID as well.
The full BBB Release is below.
BBB Warns Drivers about New Booting Hotspot In Charlotte
Sub Sandwich Could Cost You $55
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The BBB is warning drivers about a new ‘booting’ hotspot in Charlotte’s trendy Elizabeth area. Elizabeth is a popular retail, dining and entertainment area. Now, it’s growing in popularity for another reason: predatory booting of cars. The parking lot involved is in the 1900 block of East 7th Street, near the intersection with Pecan Avenue, where Sub Station II and Dollar General are located.
Customers of Dollar General and Sub Station II, who parked in the shopping center lot where these businesses are located, have been shocked to return a short time later to find that their car had been booted because they parked in the wrong space in the shopping center’s parking lot. Some customers, who thought they were parked in the right space, were booted for going to a second business within the same shopping center that was not listed on the sign for the space in which they parked.
The towing company that is monitoring the parking lot and booting vehicles is United Towing (also doing business as A United Towing).
“United Towing has a contract with the property manager to insure that there are parking spaces available for all of the tenants’ customers, not just for the most popular tenants’ customers,” said BBB President Tom Bartholomy. “Unfortunately, it ends up being a very expensive sub sandwich for drivers who are booted, because what the towing company is doing is not illegal.”
“Since United Towing began aggressively booting vehicles in the Elizabeth area, the BBB has received eight complaints from customers whose cars were booted in this specific parking lot,” Bartholomy said. Customers are also voicing their concerns online on Facebook, UrbanSpoon, and Trip Advisor.
“In the long run, the businesses in this shopping center will lose customers who will go elsewhere for fear that their cars will be booted,” added Bartholomy.
Customers whose vehicles have been booted allege that United Towing is engaged in predatory practices. Complainants also claim that United Towing has demanded payment in cash and has refused to accept credit cards, allegedly in violation of the City of Charlotte’s Towing Ordinance.
United Towing (BBB grade F) has an extensive history of complaints with the BBB filed by unsuspecting drivers who parked in the Key Man office parking lot on East Blvd. to run into Starbuck’s to grab a cup of coffee, only to return to find their car had been towed or was in the process of being towed.
These complaints and many more led the Charlotte City Council to amend the City of Charlotte towing ordinance in 2011. The amended Ordinance limits the amount charged for towing or booting and lists other provisions related to payment and vehicle retrieval hours.
One provision in the amended towing ordinance specifically states that if the owner of the vehicle returns while the vehicle is in the process of being towed, the towing company must release the vehicle without charging the owner a fee.
Instead of towing a vehicle, which takes longer to do and leads to the possibility of the vehicle’s owner returning and retrieving their vehicle mid-tow, United Towing boots vehicles at $50 each.
“Booting a car can be done in a matter of minutes,” said Bartholomy. “It’s faster and more economical for the towing company to do, and it does not violate Charlotte’s towing ordinance.”
The BBB has advice for drivers:
- Read the signs in parking lots to insure that the space you are parking in is a space that is designated for the business you will be patronizing.
- Do not go into surrounding businesses that are not designated on the sign for the space in which you parked, even if they are in the same shopping center.
- Pay close attention to the time allowed for parking. If the sign says 15 minute parking, your car could be booted on minute 16.
- Be careful where you park. Do not park illegally even if it is only for a few minutes.
- Do not park in lots where towing is enforced 24 hours a day, to go to nearby businesses, thinking that your car will be safe because the business is closed. Your car could be towed or booted for parking in a parking lot after the business has closed.
For more information, please visit the BBB.