Coconut Grove

This law would lower booting fees. But would it increase towing profits?

A car immobilized by a boot
A car immobilized by a boot Miami Herald file

Miami commissioners will take a little more time to consider legislation crafted to crack down on wayward booting companies amid warnings that the proposed law, for all its ostensibly good intentions, looks like a backdoor effort by the towing industry to eliminate competitors and grab control of the market.

Commissioners were poised to give second and final approval Thursday to the proposal to repeal and replace Miami’s booting law, prompted by a Univision investigation of two booting companies found to have scammed drivers and withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars in city fees. Instead, they deferred a vote until November after some booters — who were openly accused Thursday by a towing lobbyist of engaging in illegal kickbacks — said the law would effectively kill their business.

“At the rates proposed, this will push this industry out of the city of Miami,” said A.R. Booting’s Adam Radillo, suggesting that the city’s proposed law is similar to an onerous measure passed in Miami Beach in the late ’90s. “You cannot conduct the business at this rate. That’s why nobody boots on Miami Beach.”

Under the current system, companies can place the boots to immobilize the rims of illegally parked vehicles, and the city allows them to charge drivers up to $89 per vehicle to remove the devices. For each fine, companies must pay $25 to the city.

Now is kind of the wild wild west.

Mayor Tomás Regalado

The proposal on the table Thursday caps booting fees at $40, with $15 going to the city. The ordinance also would force companies to place signs that clearly let drivers know that their vehicles could be immobilized, and provide contact and fee information to the drivers whose cars have been booted. Additionally, booters would have to contact the Miami Police Department within 30 minutes of immobilizing a vehicle in order to report information about each car, including the license plate number.

The legislation was brought by outgoing Mayor Tomás Regalado after Univision 23 revealed abusive practices by two booting companies, including allegations of theft that are now under a state attorney’s investigation. According to Univision, at least two companies did not pay the city the $25 administrative fee owed for every booting fine administered. The TV station reported that Premier Booting altered reports sent to the city in order to avoid the fee, and that Elite Booting had never delivered any reports or payments since it began operating in Miami in March 2016.

“Now is kind of the wild wild west,” said the mayor.

Ralph Andrade, an attorney who works with Beach and Tremont towing companies in Miami Beach, said the city has allowed booters “to basically rape and pillage the residents and tourists and visitors of the city.” Andrade’s son is also the registered manager of a new booting company, Vehicle Immobilization Professionals, that is lobbying for the new law.

“Let me tell you why we’re not here: We’re not here because this is a towing versus booting issue,” he said, alleging that most booters are kicking back part of their profits to parking lot owners. “This is not some backdoor towing move by the Miami Beach towing industry.”

“I do not give kickbacks. I never have and I never will,” responded Radillo.

Miami Beach passed a law in 1999 that limited booting fees to $25. A check with the city of Miami Beach found no one with knowledge of any booting companies operating within the city.

Towing companies in Miami have also had their fair share of bad press, including a 2015 audit that found wreckers owed the city tens of thousands of dollars and FBI arrests that same year of tow truck drivers who served kickbacks to crooked public service aides.

Commissioner Ken Russell worried aloud that the city was treating towers and booters unequally.

“What ends up happening is you’re choosing a lesser of two evils,” Russell said. “Not to say that anybody is evil in this case.”

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