Think You're Safe From the Boot? Think Again.
Like many Chicagoans, Beth assumed that you had to have at least three parking tickets to get the boot. She was wrong. "I got the boot!" she says. "I got the boot--and I didn't even have an outstanding ticket!"
In Chicago you should never assume you know the law about parking tickets, because you probably don't.
Before I go any further I have to point out that Beth, worried that the city might exact vengeance, asked me not to reveal her last name to city officials. Without it I couldn't check her parking record, so for all I know, she had 100 outstanding parking tickets. But I'm telling her story anyway because it points to a potentially costly parking-ticket technicality.
According to Beth, on the morning of June 28 she parked her car as usual near the Metra station in Rogers Park, boarded the train, and went to work. When she returned around 5:30 she saw a big orange sticker on the driver's side front window. "As soon as I saw that sticker," she says, "I knew I got the boot."
She says she didn't get a parking ticket, just the boot. "I figured they must have made a mistake, because I didn't have three outstanding tickets," she says. "I did have one outstanding ticket from last year."
Actually she owed a $20 late fee on the ticket, which she got for parking on a block on street-cleaning day. "I probably should have cleared that up, but I didn't," she says. "You know how it is. You get a notice--you don't know what it means. As far as I was concerned, I was not boot eligible. As far as I knew, the law is they won't give you the boot unless you have three outstanding tickets."
Yet there was the boot. She got on her cell phone and called 311. "I got a guy who transferred me to someone in the revenue department who wouldn't do anything. I told him, 'But I only have one outstanding ticket.' He said it was 'boot eligible.' I tried to get him to clarify what boot eligible means. Is there some category of tickets we don't know about? He just kept saying, 'It's boot eligible.' He refused to have the boot taken off."
She called the police. "The police said the law is that it takes three or more tickets to be boot eligible, as far as they know, but there's not much they can do."
The next day she went to the city's administrative hearing office at 400 W. Superior to pay her fine and get the boot removed. "I had to get there within 24 hours of having been booted, because after 24 hours they will tow you--and I didn't want to be towed," she says. "If you get towed you have to pay a storage fee and even more money. As it was, I ended up paying about $150 to get rid of the boot. It's a total racket."
I called the Department of Revenue for an explanation.
"Let's say you have three tickets that are in seizure status--that means you have exhausted all the time in which they can be contested," said Annette Martinez, a department spokeswoman. "To get off the books you have to pay all of them off."
In other words, just paying one or two of those tickets won't get you off the boot-eligible list?
"That's correct," said Martinez. "People may think that they can get off of boot eligibility by paying enough tickets to get them under three outstanding tickets. But that's not the rule. To get off the boot-eligibility list you have to pay the total fine on all the tickets that made you boot eligible. If you don't pay that full fine--if you only pay a portion of it, even if it's most of it--you're still eligible for the boot."
Martinez laughed. "I know it's confusing, and many people don't understand the rule. But it's the rule."
She quickly pointed out that the law is on the city's Web site. "It's under parking facts," she said. "It reads, 'Once final determination has been entered upon three or more tickets, the city will mail a notice informing you of your boot eligibility. If you fail to pay the tickets, any and all of your vehicles may be booted.'"
The key phrase is "final determination," she says. "Final determination means you've been given at least three notices that you're boot eligible. Once you get that final determination notice, you can't just get off the eligibility list by paying one ticket. You have to pay all your tickets. People can't say they weren't warned. We send out notices."
For what it's worth, Beth says she doesn't remember getting a final determination notice, adding, "I would have remembered something like that." She insists she paid off all of her outstanding tickets except for the $20 late fee. I do remember getting that [$20 notice]," she says. "I thought it was paid--I thought it was some kind of mistake. That's why I didn't pay it. Of course if it ever happens again I'll pay it--even if I wasn't late on paying the first ticket. I don't even know for sure that I was late on paying that old ticket. The city just says I'm late. But think about it. I'll pay a fine for being late even if I wasn't late because I don't want to be booted. Now do you understand why I call it a racket?"
Beth says the clerk at the administrative hearing office tried to explain the rule to her. "The lady who took my money told me that because I hadn't paid off all of my old tickets, I was eligible for the boot. I said, 'But the law doesn't say you're eligible for the boot if you had outstanding tickets, it says you're eligible if you have outstanding tickets.' It says right here on the boot sticker I got, 'have three tickets.' I think it's reasonable to assume that the overwhelming majority of people believe that they have to have three tickets to get the boot. Well, they could be in for a big surprise."
Martinez says she'd be happy to talk to Beth about the law: "If she has any more questions, tell her to call me, and I'll be happy to help her any way I can."
Beth turned down Martinez's offer after I relayed it to her, even though I told her that the city was hardly going to go to the trouble of tracking down one person complaining about one boot. "I just don't trust the city," she said. "I think they would ride me for the rest of my stay in Chicago. I've already had enough headaches over this."
Suckered on the South Side
In my June 25 column Dan Korn was proudly riding his tall bike around Daley Plaza at the city's Bike to Work Day rally. Now he's in the dumps--his bike was stolen. "I have no one to blame but myself," he says. "I should have known better."
He took the awkward-looking bike, which he'd built by welding one frame on top of another, to a Critical Mass ride on June 25. "You know how we do it--we gather at Daley Plaza on the last Friday of the month at 5:30 PM, and we go from there," he says. "This time we went to Hyde Park."
Korn and about eight other riders were on their way back north when they ran into trouble. "We were at 41st and Ellis, and there was a bunch of teenage kids hanging around," he says. "A kid was yelling at another rider. For some reason the rider stopped. First mistake. Instead of telling the rider to move on I stopped too. Second mistake."
He says one of the teenagers approached him. "He said, 'Hey, let me get on your bike.' I said no. I'm standing there, holding my bike, and he's climbing up on it. I'm thinking, 'All right, if he rides a bit it will defuse the situation.' I let people ride my bike all the time. I didn't think he'd get very far anyway. Third mistake. One of the other kids said, 'Hey, that guy's a punk. He's gonna steal your bike.' He actually circled back again, and then he took off. I was really surprised he was able to ride the bike so well, but he did. The last I saw he was heading west on 41st Street."
Korn and his friends talked about what they should do. "It was getting dark, and all of a sudden people got afraid that, you know, we were in a really 'bad' neighborhood and we were going to die," he says. "The whole thing got a little silly at that point. I mean, it wasn't that bad of a neighborhood. Fear will do strange things to you. The others rode back, and I just took the bus home."
The next day he rode another bike back to the neighborhood. "I had printed up some flyers, and I went around asking people if they'd seen my bike," he says. "They said, 'Oh yeah, I saw this kid on a bike like that.' I posted my flyers offering a reward of another bike and 20 bucks to anyone who could return my tall bike."
Later that day he got a phone call. "The caller ID was blocked, so I couldn't tell who was calling," he says. "It was some kid who said, 'I got your bike--I want 100 bucks for it.' I said, 'Look, I'm not giving you 100 bucks. My offer stands. Take it or leave it.' He hung up. I don't know if he's the kid who took my bike. By now my bike's already gone to the scrapper."
Korn also filed a police complaint. "The cop said, 'You let some kid ride your bike?' What could I say? It was true. I don't want to get too philosophical about this, but to me the whole thing is about fear. Fear is the one thing I had to overcome to ride the bike in the first place. Fear is why I lost the bike--because I was afraid to confront the kid. Fear is the enemy of civilization."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.