City Council bans car booting

Private businesses may no longer punish illegal parking by booting cars

Anna Ewart

Jason Cooke was essentially put out of business by the city of Minneapolis.

Limited Space , Cooke’s car-booting business, operated near the University in private parking lots. However, booting vehicles for parking violations is now illegal.

“They just awarded a monopoly to the towing companies,” Cooke said.

Towing cars is still legal in Minneapolis, but Cooke said those businesses do the same thing as businesses that immobilize, or boot, vehicles.

“I thought Minneapolis was a progressive city,” he said. “I guess it’s not.”

The City Council unanimously voted to ban the practice June 6 in connection with a 2008 city report on booting practices. The ban went into effect on Saturday.

The report names several “predatory practices.” Booting companies were observed booting without adequate signage and without proper authorization.

Several companies also charged unauthorized fees, used intimidating behavior and threatened to have cars towed if booting fees were not paid immediately, according to the report.

Richard Tuffs, a license inspector for the city , said he has given 52 citations to booting companies over the past three years, with fines totaling about $25,000.

Limited Space has gotten three citations since 2006. Cooke said he paid the fees, but called them “questionable.”

Safety was also mentioned in the report because of the confrontational nature of the business.

Booting had been a legal and licensed private industry in Minneapolis from 1994 until now.

Booting will still be allowed in parking lots that aren’t large enough to allow tow trucks to maneuver.

Ward 9 City Councilman Gary Schiff said Minneapolis was one of few cities that allowed booting, and it had a higher-than-average cap on booting fees – $103.50.

“We allowed just a huge industry to pop up,” Schiff said, noting that the University area had an especially high number of complaints.

Booting is legal, but uncommon, in St. Paul, the report said.

Schiff, a University graduate, said he also plans to introduce a resolution that would cap towing fees.

Although booting fees were lower than towing fees, he said the city had more problems with booting companies.

“Towing is not as lucrative as booting because you can’t do it as fast,” Schiff said.

Both booting and towing are private industries in Minneapolis, which means the city itself doesn’t boot cars.

Gene Buell, owner of Gopher Towing, said he was one of the first people to get a booting license when the city began allowing the practice.

Gopher Towing never received a citation, but Buell said he stopped booting several years ago after unethical practices became common.

Often, businesses would boot too aggressively and even pay off lot owners for calling in vehicles that could be booted, he said.

This type of kickback has been illegal in Minneapolis since 2005, but the practice might have continued anyway, according to the city’s report.

Buell said he thinks booting was probably better for motorists than towing, but the industry was impossible to regulate.

Gabriel Hicks, who recently got his master’s degree from the University , had his car booted in 2006.

Hicks was parked illegally near campus for about an hour, but he said the signs near the lot were unclear.

The man who booted him had an aggressive guard dog and threatened to have him towed if he didn’t pay the $100 fee.

“It seems like it was unregulated,” Hicks said of the booting industry.