It can turn a cheap night on the town, a quick errand, or a last-minute change of plans into a pricey Chicago outing: Private Boot Rules enforcement has been citywide for years now.
Where you shop and your attention to warning signs dictate the risk, and if you’re not careful, you could pay a heavy price.
Only certain neighborhoods in Chicago allow private startup enforcement, and the reason behind it has to do with local politics, with ordinances and hundreds of dollars in campaign contributions behind nearly every startup.
The largest and most active private startup company in the Chicago area is a company called Innovative Parking Solutions (IPS), according to city licensing records.
Private companies hire companies like IPS to monitor parking lots, boot drivers and fines who park there but leave the property. The cost to remove a boot for drivers is $170, with payment requested on the spot.
Parking areas subject to this type of enforcement are required by the city to have signs posted and visible.
While the signs are visible, IPS employees are not. Often parked and out of sight, IPS employees mingle with other vehicles in the field, waiting and watching for every driver who stops.
While some companies like this option, keeping their lots filled with nothing but customers, drivers faced with the trunk and its financial consequences feel a much different emotion.
Records obtained by NBC 5 Responds from Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection show more than 250 private startup complaints filed with the city since 2019.
A 45th Precinct driver told the city he was getting the COVID-19 vaccine when he was kicked out for parking in the wrong spot. Another 31st Ward driver complained that he was kicked out after parking in a handicapped spot that was not properly marked.
In both complaints, the drivers did not name the company behind the trunk.
“This practice is misleading,” wrote one driver.
Many of those drivers who wrote to the city usually asked the same question: is it legal?
The answer: Yes, but only in certain neighborhoods.
To see where the Private Boot app is, check out the map below or Click here.
Chicago’s First Ward banned private startups last year after Ald. Daniel La Spata said he heard complaint after complaint from neighborhood residents.
“We’ve had constituents contacting us who felt like they were being treated unfairly,” La Spata said.
Initially, La Spata said his office tried to contact IPS and work with the head of the private startup. Since company employees monitor drivers, the alderman’s office asked if IPS employees could warn drivers before the start proceeds.
What happened next is debated by both sides.
“They basically told us that if we did this it would disrupt our whole business model,” La Spata told NBC 5 Responds. “Well, if that’s the case, come on. You admit to me that’s a predatory business model.”
IPS owner Michael Denigris disagrees with La Spata’s version of events.
“That’s not what I said. They twisted the words,” Denigris told NBC 5 Responds.
Denigris said when it came to warning drivers before starting them, “It’s just not doable. It’s not working. The people who are paying for this property, it’s not fair to them .”
As of early 2022, 32 Chicago neighborhoods allow private startup execution while 18 neighborhoods do not.
Denigris said it was a sign of his company’s progress and expansion over the years across Chicago.
“We started with two quarters, 22 years ago,” Denigris told NBC 5 Responds. “Now we have 32. It’s not the other way around. We didn’t start with 50 and go down.”
Denigris explained that the way it works is that he has to approach the aldermen to get permission to start for businesses in their neighborhood. That’s why the number of neighborhoods has grown over the years, Denigris said, with more and more private companies hiring him for a “more modern approach” to parking enforcement.
This could be one of the reasons Denigris is keeping a close eye on local campaigns.
NBC 5 Responds combed through campaign contribution records, finding that over the past five years, IPS, including Denigris, have contributed $21,000 to local municipal campaigns.
Neighborhoods that have received the most funding also allow start-up. NBC 5 Responds contacted the 14 aldermen who received contributions for comment, but only three responded.
Like the 22nd Ward, where private booting is allowed, Ald. Mike Rodriguez has received the most contributions from IPS and Denigris: $3,500 over the past two years.
When NBC 5 Responds brought this to Rodriguez’s attention, he said he would “transfer these funds to COVID relief efforts in southwest Chicago…to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest.”
Even La Spata in the First Ward received a $200 contribution, just over a month before the alderman’s office began conversations with IPS in 2021, and then banned start-up operations altogether.
“I would like to believe that this communicates to people, through my legislative actions, that contributions do not fully determine the choices we make as legislators,” La Spata said.
Denigris denies that the contributions were in any way an attempt to buy influence.
“I get involved with the alderman of my neighborhoods, I go to events all the time,” Denigris said. “They have good food. They have a lot of contacts there where I can meet people who have parking lots. I go there, I buy tickets, I don’t donate for any other reason…I gotta get involved in the community.”
Denigris is adamant that his company follows strict city rules, and in cases where they don’t, he reimburses drivers and suspends or retrains his employees.
“We have nothing to hide and the way people are treated is the most important thing to me. I take care of the community,” Denigris said, adding that business owners also have Rights.
“When you get a driver’s license, it’s your job to follow the rules and obey the posted signs. It’s your job, it’s everyone’s job,” Denigris said.
Although private startup law enforcement is legal in some parts of the city, drivers still have rights and startup company employees have strict rules they must follow in order for the startup and the fine are valid.
Here are the rules and your private start rights (full list of Chicago rules linked here):
- Traffic signs: Private lots that use boot law enforcement must have warning signs posted throughout the lot that are visible from every parking space. Signs include removal fees, rules about leaving the grounds before or after attending a business, and the name of the business responsible for enforcing the law.
- Boot attachment: This is important: if a driver returns to their vehicle before a trunk is fully secured, the startup company is required to remove the trunk at no cost to the driver.
- Occupied vehicle: It is illegal for a company to attach a trunk to the wheel of a car if there are occupants in the vehicle.
- Reception and documentation: Start-up companies are required to give drivers a copy of the “Bill of Rights” explaining these rules when they are started. In the event of an appeal, always ask for a receipt and documents from the employee responsible for enforcing the start-up rules.
- Right of appeal: There are several ways to appeal a private start fine. You may appeal or file a complaint with the Chicago Department of Business and Consumer Protection by calling 311 or (312) 744-5000. IPS also told NBC 5 Responds that it has an appeals process and a committee that reviews private startup complaints on its website here.