New DeKalb boot­ing fee law not en­forced

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - METRO - By Tia Mitchell [email protected]

Two months ago, DeKalb County com­mis­sion­ers adopted a law that capped the fees boot­ing com­pa­nies can charge, an ef­fort to reign in an in­dus­try ac­cused of preda­tory prac­tices against mo­torists across the metro area.

But the case of the Cald­well Tree Care com­pany that was charged $650 to free its truck from a boot in a south­west DeKalb park­ing lot has re­vealed break­downs in the county’s launch and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new fee lim­i­ta­tions.

DeKalb lead­ers now say that the owner of the tree re­moval com­pany was gouged last Tues­day, and they may cite the boot­ing busi­ness for vi­o­lat­ing the new or­di­nance the county com­mis­sion ap­proved Dec. 4. The new fee caps are $150 for semi-trucks and $85 for all other ve­hi­cles.

Com­pany owner Kevin Cald­well said he places part of the blame on the DeKalb Po­lice Depart­ment. He said the of­fi­cer who re­sponded al­lowed ABL Boot­ing Co. to charge the ex­or­bi­tant fee.

Cald­well said his work­ers had to tem­po­rar­ily clean out their bank ac­counts to cobble to­gether the money needed to get the boot re­moved from the park­ing lot that was an hour away from the com­pany’s of­fices in Roswell.

“How come the beat cops didn’t do any­thing about this?” Cald­well said Fri­day. “Was it ig­no­rance? Was it be­cause they are friendly with these guys? Or was it be­cause they did not get in­formed?”

The po­lice depart­ment has launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the episode, first re­ported by Chan­nel 2 Ac­tion News. Po­lice lead­ers last week com­mu­ni­cated across the depart­ment of 860 of­fi­cers that the fee lim­its are the law and should be en­forced.

“While the of­fi­cer was un­aware of the ef­fec­tive date for the fee re­stric­tions, the po­lice depart­ment has the con­tact in­for­ma­tion for the par­ties in­volved in the in­ci­dent,” Po­lice Chief James Con­roy said. “The po­lice depart­ment will in­ves­ti­gate and is­sue a ci­ta­tion if war­ranted.”

The owner of ABL Boot­ing Co., Ryan Tay­lor, said by text mes­sage that he had not heard from DeKalb po­lice about the in­ci­dent. He said the county’s code en­force­ment di­vi­sion told him he could con­tinue charg­ing the higher rates un­til the or­di­nance is fully im­ple­mented next month.

The law be­came ef­fec­tive when it was signed by CEO Mike Thur­mond on Dec. 6 and states that the new caps on boot­ing fees were im­me­di­ate, Con­roy said.

Thur­mond and mem­bers of the County Com­mis­sion told The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion they were un­aware that the or­di­nance was not be­ing en­forced.

Com­mis­sioner Mereda Davis John­son voted in fa­vor of the or­di­nance af­ter hear­ing tes­ti­mony from boot­ing com­pa­nies that said they wanted the county to cre­ate stan­dards that al­lowed them to op­er­ate legally. Af­ter learn­ing about Cald­well’s ex­pe­ri­ence, she vowed to get an­swers.

“It’s def­i­nitely the law of the land in un­in­cor­po­rated DeKalb,” John­son said. She added that if ABL didn’t think it could com­ply, her re­sponse would be: “Go to an­other ju­ris­dic­tion.”

The or­di­nance re­quires boot­ing com­pa­nies to ap­ply for li­censes, and their em­ploy­ees must all be per­mit­ted. The new law also cre­ates min­i­mum stan­dards for sig­nage at park­ing lots where boot­ing oc­curs and pro­hibits com­pa­nies from pay­ing kick­backs to lot own­ers.

It al­lowed a 90-day win­dow for most of these changes to be im­ple­mented, and that grace pe­riod ex­tends to early March. How­ever, the caps on fees and re­quire­ments that boots be re­moved within 1 hour af­ter they are paid went into ef­fect im­me­di­ately.

Com­pa­nies found in vi­o­la­tion of the law can be fined at least $200 for a first of­fense.

Cald­well said the depart­ment will ask ABL to re­fund money he paid above the al­lowed lim­its. If the com­pany does not com­ply, it is un­likely to re­ceive the li­cense nec­es­sary to con­tinue op­er­at­ing in DeKalb, Cald­well said.

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