Halifax man refuses to pay booting company, waits 5 hours for car to be freed

A Halifax resident who waited five hours in a parking lot for a car booting company to free his vehicle wants stricter oversight of an industry he says uses "predatory tactics and intimidation."

Joshua Bernas said he thought he was parking in a visitor spot when he visited an acupuncture clinic at 50 Bedford Highway on Saturday. Bernas told CBC News that when he realized the office was closed, he returned to his car to find someone securing a boot to his tire.

Bernas said the employee securing the boot handed him a ticket from One-Shot Parking Solutions with instructions to pay $115 to free his vehicle.

"I absolutely refused ... It was a completely ridiculous situation through and through," Bernas told CBC's Information Morning.

The owner of One-Shot Parking Solutions, Dan Watson, disputes Bernas's version of events, and sent CBC News a video from a body cam that the employee was wearing.

Submitted by Josh Bernas

In the video, Bernas tells the employee he had a 20-minute acupuncture appointment, that he was the last patient of the day and that he paid with debit.

The employee asks Bernas to show him proof that he paid and he'll remove the boot. He also said that if someone at the clinic confirms he had an appointment, he'll remove the boot. Bernas then says the office is closed. 

Watson said the visitor spots in that parking lot are for people visiting the residential side of the building and drivers need to register their licence plates.

"His vehicle wasn't registered, so patrol was able to see that he shouldn't be there and that's why he was booted," Watson said.

What the law says

In Halifax, companies that boot vehicles in private parking lots aren't regulated, which means they can set their own prices and follow their own rules.

Companies are not doing anything illegal as long as they have a sign up indicating what happens to illegally parked cars.

But that could change.

Halifax Regional Municipality recently asked for a staff report on regulating car booting companies following complaints from residents about high costs.

Municipal staff have suggested one option is for Halifax to follow Moncton's lead and require companies to apply for licences.

Bernas said there was a sign at the entrance to the parking lot that stated it was private property and that violators would be booted. He didn't see that sign when he first pulled in and believed he was following the rules by parking in a visitor spot. 

"I was a consumer in the area looking to do business," he said. "Surely there's no reason to boot my car.

Bernas said what really concerned him was that the employee of One-Shot Parking Solutions didn't identify himself or let Bernas speak to his supervisor.

'People are pretty heated about parking'

"They're using predatory tactics and intimidation to put you on the spot to get you to pay in an environment that you're not comfortable in, and I don't think that that's fair," he said.

Watson said patrollers do wear uniforms, but his company's vehicles don't have logos on them, "because they'd be subject to damage. I mean, people are pretty heated about parking," he said.

According to the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks, the company's certificate of registration was revoked for non-payment on Jan. 7 and was reinstated on Monday.

Watson said he forgot to file paperwork over Christmas and that it was a "clerical error" that has been corrected.

Worth the 5-hour wait

Bernas said he stayed in his car researching the company online and eventually called the police.

Halifax Regional Police said officers responded to a call on the Bedford Highway on Saturday, but determined it was a civil matter.

"Officers were able to mediate a resolution to the matter; the boot was removed from the vehicle and the file was closed with no charges," Const. John MacLeod said in an email. 

Bernas said he arrived at the acupuncturist at 4 p.m. and the boot was removed by the company around 9 p.m. He did not pay a fee.

He knows most people would have simply paid the $115, but he said the long wait was worth it.

Regulatory oversight concerns owner

According to the HRM staff report, One-Shot Parking Solutions and another company called RFM Parking monitor about 50 private lots in the municipality on behalf of businesses.

The staff report noted that officials in business districts said better education and public awareness is needed to balance the needs of private lot owners and parking availability for local businesses.

"My only real concern is in regulating the price for a private business," Watson said. "I've had quite lengthy conversations with city staff in regards to things I'd like to see regulated and other options for parking enforcement in the City of Halifax."

The staff report is expected to come up at a transportation standing committee meeting on Jan. 23. 

In 2018, Moncton passed a bylaw that requires companies to apply for a license if they want to boot someone's vehicle. Under the new rules, they can't charge more than $45.

But a bylaw didn't entirely solve Moncton's problem with booters because some companies continued to immobilize cars illegally. In 2019, Moncton decided to take the offenders to court.

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