Portland city councilors will consider an ordinance to regulate companies that immobilize vehicles for parking violations at privately owned lots available for public use, like this one operated by Unified Parking Partners at Monument Square. Credit: David Harry | The Forecaster

PORTLAND, Maine — Companies that immobilize vehicles for violations at private parking lots could soon be regulated by a new city ordinance amendment.

The City Council Transportation, Sustainability & Energy Committee last week recommended that the full council amend Chapter 28 of the city code to require companies using “boots” to be licensed by the city.

The new rules would primarily govern Unified Parking Partners, which manages about 40 lots and garages with about 5,000 spaces, including lots where parking is allowed only after weekday business hours.

The changes were endorsed by UPP co-owner Dan McNutt.

“I support it, it has been my position from the beginning to work with the city in any way we can,” McNutt said Monday.

The regulations would also affect Fore River Management, which oversees a 12-car lot for commercial clients.

“This would make our life more difficult for managing our parking lot and would then make life more difficult for the tenants,” Fore River partner Ric Quesada said Oct. 9.

UPP has operated in the city for two years. It gained notoriety when The Forecaster in August reported on its substantial growth with a pay-and-display business model similar to the system the city uses for public parking on downtown streets.

“We have opened up more than 2,000 spaces to the downtown inventory,” McNutt said.

Violators who stay past the time stamped on their UPP receipt, and those who fail to pay at all, will find a “Denver boot” when they return to their vehicle, and a charge of $40 or $70, respectively, to remove it.

It is a method that has been criticized on social media, where one Yelp review called the company “Unified Parking Pirates.”

The new city regulations will require parking companies to carry liability insurance of at least $500,000 per person and $1 million per incident. They will also have to clearly display all pertinent information about the lot management, contact numbers, and boot removal fee, and note the time of violation on the vehicle and receipt after a boot has been removed.

The license fee has not been determined.

By contrast, the city immobilizes vehicles after three unpaid parking tickets that are at least 10 days old.

Councilor Jon Hinck, vice chairman of the TS&E Committee, said he wanted to be sure the required 24-by-36-inch signs at the lots were explicit so “we can be sure that close to 100 percent of the people who pull in know they are going to a private lot that is privately enforced and includes [the practice of using] a boot.”

McNutt and Quesada said using boots is preferable to towing vehicles for several reasons, including convenience, safety and minimizing damage.

“In these congested downtown lots, sometimes it is very difficult to get a tow truck into the lot,” Quesada added.

He estimated Fore River Management has used boots for about 25 years, perhaps longer than the city. Removal fees are usually $20 to $25, he said, and the company does not track violations. The person hired to remove the boot gets half the fee.

“With the other half, we go out and buy ice cream for the office,” he said. “This is a 12-car lot and we are not in the parking business. We are managing the lot for our tenants, not for business or for profit.”

McNutt said violations represent about 1.6 percent to 1.8 percent of UPP’s pay-and-display transactions, and a new smartphone app allows vehicle owners to buy more time without returning to their car.

“We are still very excited about the service we are providing and looking forward to continued success,” he said.