Julianne Sloan got a nasty surprise New Year’s Eve around 1 p.m. when she parked in the strip mall lot at 1215 S. Harlem and then stepped off the property: a boot on the driver’s side front wheel of her dark green Chrysler Town and Country minivan that cost her $175 to remove.

Sloan said she walked away to help her daughter return a Redbox video in the neighboring Walgreens parking lot and when she returned two men had booted her minivan. The men, employees of MC Parking Management, pointed out warning signs. Sloan says they acted “ugly and scary” in front of her daughter. She withdrew money from the Walgreens ATM and paid cash to release her car.

Then she became a woman with a mission.

“It’s extremely unexpected [to have a car booted]. Can’t we act a little neighborly here?” she said. Last week, Sloan, who lives in the 1400 block of Marengo, printed 200 fliers warning neighbors about the boot-bandits and distributed them throughout the Betsy Ross School neighborhood south of Roosevelt and west of Circle Avenue. Sloan called the booting company in early January and complained strongly. She was promised an $80 partial refund, but has not received it, almost 6 weeks later.

The booting is perfectly legal, said Jason Lopez of MC Parking Management. “There are signs up. People are abusively parking on private property.” Lopez said. MC Management, located in the 10500 block of Western Avenue in Chicago is one of five private booting companies in the City of Chicago.

Lopez said the company has booted about 90 vehicles at the strip mall in the past 12 months. He said his employees wait five minutes before booting a car, which Sloan disputes. He also said they will not boot a handicapped driver.

Since January, MC lowered the price to remove the boot to $125.

“Forest Parkers are a bunch of crybabies,” said Lopez. “In other towns, like Tinley Park, people know they are trespassing and they don’t complain. They just pay.”

The strip mall has around 30 parking spots. Four of eight retail storefronts are filled. Tenants are Lee Nails, Subway, Cricket and Happy Chef Chinese Restaurant. The half-vacant mall gives the impression of ample parking, said Lopez. Lopez said he’s paid $1,000 to replace signage that has been pulled down again and again at the strip mall.

Trespassing parkers come primarily from three sources: Parking is scarce at Martin & McCulloh PC law offices at 1225 S. Harlem and the Avenue Manor Apartment across the street at 1227 S. Harlem.

Jim Martin, one of the lawyers next door predicts that the strip mall “will become a destination to avoid and everyone loses. No wonder that only half the mall is rented,” he said. “The mall owners are exercising their right to act selfishly and disrespectfully toward the public.” His partner, John McCulloh has been booted, according to the firm receptionist. The law office has a posted warning that clients should not park in the lot.

But some choose to take their chances.

“They’re predators! They blocked in my son’s car with their old blue Blazer and gave him a boot,” said Frank Bavone, Sr. of the 1400 block of Elgin. Bavone said his son, Frank Jr., was in a hurry to stop in the law offices and saw the signs, but threw the dice. “[Frank Jr.] had $100 in his pocket and [MC Parking] accepted that.” Bavone Sr. said he went to the strip mall and MC employees fled when he confronted them. “I’m 64 years old and they were afraid of me. Nobody runs when things are on the level.” Frank Jr. was out of town and unavailable for an interview.

The strip mall is a two-year-old development owned by Universal Realty Group, headquartered in West Rogers Park, Chicago. It was built on the former site of the Savant Medical Supplies building. Universal representative Dave Herrera did not return several phone calls asking for comment.

Nick Vo, manager of Lee Nails Spa, said he did not like when handicapped spots were taken by trespassing parkers. But he pointed out, “I have no jurisdiction over the property.”

Another source of trespassing parkers is the complicated turning traffic pattern at the corner of Harlem and Roosevelt Road. Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) regulations require that northbound drivers on Harlem Avenue be prohibited from turning west into the Walgreens lot. Both Harlem and Roosevelt Road are IDOT roadways. The 1215 lot lures northbound drivers with an available left turnÐ many believe the two lots are connected. Once they’ve turned into the lot, exiting and going around several residential blocks to enter the Walgreens lot from the west seems complicated. Many decide, like Sloan did, to just leave their car and proceed to Walgreens. That’s when the booters strike.

Private booting is a new business model that operates in an area of the law that has not fully developed. Illinois Commerce Commission Chief of Police Craig Baner said state laws do not regulate booting companies. Towing companies are highly regulated by the state, he said, but booting businesses are limited by local ordinances.

“Towing laws cover only a vehicle that is transported. That vehicle would have to be moved off the property,” he said. “We get a lot of complaints about booting companies, but we only do transportation and we don’t handle it. There’s just no state rule or ordinance that governs it.”

Chicago’s ordinance for private booters (Chapter 4-233) includes a consumer’s bill of rights that limits fees to $115 and requires that the booting companies must immediately remove a boot if the car owner returns before the boot is completely attached. Employees must also wear identification at all times.

MC Parking is registered in the Village of Forest Park, confirmed Village Administrator Tim Gillian. But Baner said because the village has no ordinance regarding booting, the company has a wide leeway.

For Sloan, the problem could be solved if everyone was a bit more neighborly. “I wish [MC] would be willing to look at their policy. Everybody has a right to manage their personal property as they see fit. They should allow lot sharing and allow a reasonable amount of time. It’s a horrible corner for getting in and out,” she said. “Friendlier practices lead to better customers overall.”

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...