New solutions sought for parking lot with 'predatory booting'

Credit: NBC Charlotte

New solutions sought for parking lot with 'predatory booting'

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by TONY BURBECK / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @TonyWCNC

WCNC.com

Posted on June 19, 2013 at 5:21 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 19 at 8:27 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Time stamps, pictures of offenders and new signs are three potential solutions to an ongoing car booting problem at a popular parking lot in the Elizabeth neighborhood.

The lot at the corner of 7th and Pecan had about 25 cars booted just last week, according to a tow truck driver.

The lot is the worst in town when it comes to booting, according to the Better Business Bureau. Booting is when a wheel is locked by a device that doesn't allow the car to move and is often used as an enforcement tool in private parking lots.

United Towing, which patrols part of the lot on 7th Street, leads the BBB's list of towing company complaints with 24, officials said, and has an "F" rating for failing to respond to all complaints.

The BBB says booting became a popular loophole for towing companies after the city revised its towing and booting ordinance in 2011, which allowed people who saw their cars being towed to demand they be dropped and not face large fines.

Booting is much faster and requires a $50 fine for removal. 

The signs in the 7th Street parking lot are everywhere.

If you plan to park in them, it's for Visart Video, Sandwichmax and Kim’s Cleaners only.

Go anywhere else and tow truck drivers like James Miller will boot your car within seconds.

"You have to be there to see that and fine them," Miller said.

Some call it "predatory" booting.

Miller says drivers tell him they read the sign, but don't care.

"’I saw it, I just wanted to go in, quick in and out,’" Miller said, citing the explanation he often gets.

Other drivers, including some who have complained to the BBB, say they did go into the stores identified on the signs and still got booted.

An example is going to the comic book shop, then the sandwich shop.

Property owner Jim Lowder says the order of where people go matters in regards to booting.

He needs the parking spaces and says people go into a store for 30 seconds after they've been booted just to get a receipt and use it as an excuse.

"You can't sit there and have a guy pay a dollar for a cookie and another guy lose $50 on a boot, that won't work. He won't be out there, and I would be back to the same problem," Lowder said.

Miller says drivers often do that, and then threaten to call the police or the media if they don't remove the boot for free.

Police say where people go first shouldn't matter as long as they ended up in one the listed stores.

"In this case, we hope that they can resolve that between the property owner and the people who patronize the businesses," said CMPD Deputy Chief Eddie Levins.

Council Member Michael Barnes said he does not think the issue at the parking lot requires city intervention or reworking of the 2011 ordinance. Barnes did request the city attorney's office to look into what, if any say the city has when it comes to parking and towing on private property.

Lowder says he will consider installing new signs to clear any confusion. One problem with this particular parking lot is four different groups own it, and how parking is enforced changes changes from one end to the other.

One issue police say they're seeing on a city-wide basis is towing companies demanding cash only to remove boots, when they're supposed to take cash and credit cards.

Levins says some tow truck drivers have been charged with misdemeanors for doing that.

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