Atlanta's rise in car booting prompts masked women to take matters into their own hands
State leaders plan on introducing a bill to ban the practice.
In Atlanta, drivers across the city, along with elected officials, have been raising their voices over the growing number of cars that are booted by private companies.
While the city has to place boots on vehicles that violate parking rules on public streets, many private businesses, parking lots and even private homes have called in companies to boot vehicles on their properties, city and state leaders said.
"You see through the social media reactions, the reactions of local news when stories about booting come up," Georgia State Sen. Josh McLaurin told ABC News. "This is a problem that a lot of Atlantans actually are really concerned about."
The frustration has led to some residents taking matters into their own hands, such as the "Boot Girls," a pair of unidentified women who have gone viral for their business of removing boots from cars in the city.
"We usually wake up at, like 8 a.m., [with] our phone blowing up is full of boots," Boot Shiesty, one of the "Boot Girls," who asked not to be identified, told ABC News. "It can last [until] like 3 a.m."
Although the private companies are following the law and say they trying to avoid any trouble, lawmakers said they are leading a charge to ban the practice, which they contend isn't efficient.
Jeff Phillips, who owns a private booting company in Atlanta, told ABC News that booting companies are allowed through a city ordinance and must be permitted by the police.
"We have to have background checks and signage, so there’s a whole bunch of things we have to do in order to boot a car legally," he said.
Matt Wetherington, an attorney who says he has represented thousands of car owners who have been booted, told ABC News that the laws have led to an increase in the use of the service and little chance for vehicle owners to push back.
"This is big business in Atlanta. Everyone profits. The booting companies profit, and the parking companies profit. Even the business owners profit," he said. "And the people who are parking…even in their own homes, are the ones paying the cost."
Wetherington added that there has been an increased aggression from residents over the rise in booting.
The "Boot Girls" acquired a boot key from a person who has manufactured boot keys for the public in April after they got booted. Boot key manufacturing has been in high demand for drivers who are looking to get the boot off themselves for a price, according to elected officials.
The Atlanta Police Department released a statement in May in response to the proliferation of the boot keys noting that while they are not illegal to own, using the key to "modify, tamper, or disengage a booting device from a vehicle," is against the law.
"The owners of these businesses are authorized to either boot or tow vehicles that violate the terms of their private parking areas through independent contracts," the police said in a statement. "The Atlanta Police Department does not intervene between motorists and private business owners when vehicles are booted in violation unless a criminal matter arises."
The "Boot Girls," who charge $50 per request to remove a boot, have shared some of their aggressive encounters online, and one was arrested last month after they attempted to remove a boot for a client.
"I was trying to help the people who had called me," Boot Shiesty said.
Wetherington has called for a ban on booting and some elected officials agree that it's time for change.
Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi has tried to get the practice banned on a city level in the past, but was unsuccessful. He told ABC News that he sympathizes with small business owners but contended that booting is not a good solution to the illegal parking problem.
"If you're parked illegally and the private property owner or the city wants to remove you from that spot, towing has that impact. Booting doesn't," he said. "The car is still in the spot so the spot is not available for anyone else if that's your intended goal."
McLaurin said the state attempted to create regulations for booting five years ago, but the booting companies backed out. He introduced a bill that would have banned the practice, but it came up short of support in previous legislative sessions.
McLaurin plans on reintroducing the bill again in the next session.
"What it comes down to is what is the most lawful, safe and humane way really to enforce parking," he said. "There are all kinds of different alternatives [such as] paper tickets, controlled access, towing."
Phillips, who said he is trying to press charges against the "Boot Girls," disagreed.
"If you ban booting it's going to leave my client with one option and that’s towing," he said. "Unfortunately for people who are in violation at that point, the fee will be three to five times higher."
State Sen. John Albers, who backs McLaurin's bill, told ABC News that he hopes the legislation passes and that the current laws are changed.
"This is a bad industry. It's wrong on all levels," he said of booting. "And our job as lawmakers is to address that and protect our citizens."