The Portland City Council voted 6-3 Monday night to regulate private parking lot operators who enforce parking rules by immobilizing – or booting – vehicles.

They will be required, among other things, to post signs in their lots that provide detailed information about a lot’s owners and business practices, including the cost of removing a boot.

“In this case we have worked with the provider, who is largely supportive of the ordinance that’s before us,” said City Councilor Justin Costa. “It puts the city in a stronger place. It’s a first step response to an area of public concern and confusion.”

The proposal comes in response to complaints the city has received about Unified Parking Partners.

The new parking management company says it has opened up thousands of parking spots to the public. It posts several signs at each of its lots and allows people to purchase more parking time from their cellphones. It also videotapes enforcement actions to investigate complaints about attendants. But drivers have complained about the company’s enforcement practices, including a fee of $40 to $70 to remove a boot, even though the company says it gives people a 20-minute grace period to retrieve their vehicle.

A Maine lawmaker said he would seek statewide rules after his car was booted in the Old Port, but has since backed off that threat after meeting with the company’s owners.

The new rules allow private companies to continue booting vehicles and don’t set a cap on boot removal fees. They will not affect the city’s ticketing and booting practices.

The rules require companies to register with the city for $100 and have insurance. Company owners or employees cannot be convicted felons.

Under the ordinance, “at least three large signs” must be placed prominently in private parking lots where boots are used, with more signs in lots that have more than 50 parking spaces. The signs also must state that the lot is not city-owned, the cost to have a boot removed, and the name, address and phone number of the lot owner or manager.

City Councilor David Brenerman unsuccessfully sought to prevent companies from paying employees by the number of vehicles booted.

Unified Parking Partners owner Dan McNutt told councilors that boots are only placed on vehicles that are in violation of parking rules.

Councilors Jill Duson, Nicholas Mavodones and Edward Suslovic voted against the ordinance. Duson was particularly critical of the insurance requirement of $500,000 per person and $1 million per incident. That’s more than tow trucks, which are required to carry plans of $25,000 and $300,000, respectively.

Suslovic said he didn’t see a problem and praised the company for bringing an innovative parking business to Portland. He said the complaints were from “a handful of disgruntled folks.”

“I don’t want to shut down an innovative business model as it is meeting a need,” Suslovic said. “Right now I just don’t see a problem.”


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