Rexburg amends booting ordinance

The problem of illegally parked vehicles has vexed the city of Rexburg, home to Brigham Young University-Idaho and its large population of students.

Many apartment complex owners have employed towing companies to keep their lots clear. Some of those companies’ enforcement mechanisms include attaching devices, commonly known as boots, to illegally parked vehicles to prevent them from moving. But after a July meeting in which city prosecutors concluded that booting is illegal, the Rexburg City Council has adopted a new booting ordinance they feel can be defended in court.

There are indications that the Idaho Legislature will address the portions of state law that city prosecutors worry could leave the city exposed.

The issue first came to the attention of the city council in July.

City attorneys, after being asked to review the issue, concluded in July that Idaho Code 49-229 makes booting a misdemeanor.

“Booting is illegal. It is explicitly illegal under state statute,” Deputy Prosecutor Rob Wood said at a July 5 council meeting.

Wood also said he suspected that employing a private company to boot illegally parked cars is likely unconstitutional, and that it has led to a large number of police incidents, including a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon that resulted when an individual claimed a booting company wouldn’t produce a receipt.

Prosecutors announced that individuals who remove boots would no longer be cited, but those who place boots on cars could be charged with misdemeanors.

Later that month, local resident and Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill spoke to the city council, telling them he didn’t think that booting violates state law, according to minutes of the meeting. State code allows for towing vehicles from private property in cases of illegal parking, Hill pointed out, and so booting, a lesser intervention, surely must be allowed.

Hill produced a legal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General that contradicted the analysis of city prosecutors.

“If a property owner wanted to, he or she could simply tow all unauthorized cars instead of booting them,” Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane wrote. “Provided the statute is complied with, this is clearly permissible.”

Since booting is a lesser intervention than towing, Kane reasoned, booting should be permitted as well.

But Kane’s opinion only found that booting by private entities, and the Rexburg ordinance that authorizes it, was “defensible” in court. He said it would be “worth considering an amendment to (state code) to allow for booting in addition to or in place of towing.”

AG’s opinion in hand, City Attorney Stephen Zollinger said with a few modifications to the booting ordinance the practice could continue. New requirements in a revised ordinance include that a booting company must remove a boot if requested by police, and that video of the booted car must be retained for evidence.

“If this is the desire and wish of the community for the near future, yes, I believe we can survive using this particular ordinance,” Zollinger said at a Sept. 6 meeting, adding that the amendment was only “a stopgap until the state takes it up.”

That didn’t satisfy All American Towing owner Darren Hall, who said his company would exclusively employ towing until it could be certain booters wouldn’t face misdemeanor charges.

“We’ll be towing because that’s what’s legal,” Hall said.

Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.