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Council grills towing company on booting in parking lots

The Buffalo Common Council's investigation into Lightning Towing's booting operations got a little heated when the company's attorney attended a Council Community Development meeting Tuesday to answer questions from Council members – some of whom say the company charges motorists seemingly whatever it wants, is not giving receipts and has required cash on demand.

Corey A. Auerbach, an attorney with Barclay Damon, representing the owners of Lightning Towing, took issue with the Council calling an investigation of Lightning Towing only and not other such companies.

Lightning Towing, which provides booting and towing services based upon contracts with private companies such as grocery stores and apartment complexes, Auerbach said, "generally" charges $45 service charge to place a boot and another $45 to remove it. With tax, the general cost is $98, Auerbach said.

The local law currently does not restrict a towing company from charging more than $75 for booting operations on private lots, Auerbach said.

But, in licensed parking lots, $75 is the maximum, Council President Darius G. Pridgen has said.

"It's not illegal what Lightning Towing is doing," Auerbach said. "There is no law that regulates the immobilization of vehicles on private property lots in the City of Buffalo."

The city's law department drafted legislation specific to booting operations that will be presented to the Council in September, said Pridgen, who wants to "regulate the entire industry."

Lightning Towing is properly licensed with the city, said Auerbach.

But there was some discrepancy as to whether Lightning's license was valid during a May 31 incident at Pine Harbor Apartments on Seventh Street, in which Lightning was booting vehicles that were illegally parked in the apartment complex's lot reserved for residents, their visitors and others who pay to park there, according to apartment management.

On March 18, Lightning Towing filed a renewal application with the city prior to the April 1 expiration date and paid the $100 fee, which the city cashed on April 17, Auerbach said.

But technically, on May 31, Lightning Towing's license renewal had not been approved due to a "clerical or other procedural error" by the city's licensing division, he said.

On June 3, the following Monday, representatives from Lightning went to the licensing office and the license was "immediately" issued, Auerbach said.

Also during Tuesday's meeting, Amanda Lawrence said that during the May 31 incident, she had a permit to park in Pine Harbor's parking lot but a boot was put on her car anyway. Lightning charged her $150 to remove the boot, but did not give her a receipt. Without it, she cannot get reimbursed by Pine Harbor management, Lawrence said.

"I have no proof I compensated them to remove the boot from my vehicle," Lawrence said.

Many people have complained to Pridgen's office that Lightning Towing would not give them receipts even though they asked for them, Pridgen said.

But as a practice, the towing company "generally" gives receipts to anyone paying, Auerbach said.

Auerbach said he would check Lightning Towing's records to corroborate Lawrence's claim and produce a receipt for her if everything checks out.

Council looking to crack down on 'predatory booting' in parking lots

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