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Chicago Should Stop Impounding Cars For Non-Driving Offenses, Cap Storage Fees, Mayor Lightfoot Says

Storage fees can increase to tens of thousands of dollars when someone can't afford to retrieve their car, city officials said.

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CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants the city to stop impounding cars for non-driving violations and to cap storage fees at the impound lot.

The proposed ordinance, introduced at City Council Wednesday, is part of the mayor’s effort to address the regressive fines and fees that disproportionately impact low-income Chicagoans. In some cases, storage fees increase to tens of thousands of dollars when someone can not afford to retrieve their car, city officials said.

The city does not currently have limits on storage fees. Under current rules, residents who can not afford the full payment to retrieve the car can enter a payment plan with the city.

If the mayor’s plan is approved, the city would:

  • reduce fines and cap storage fees
  • end the practice of charging storage fees when people are unable to get their cars because they are in the possession of the Chicago Police during an investigation
  • end the practice of impoundment for non-driving and non-public safety related offenses, such as possession of fireworks, possessing spray paint or loud music
  • add legal defenses, including an “innocent owner” defense that would allow people to redeem their car when the car was used without their knowledge or they are able to prove the car should not have been impounded
  • credit individuals nearly $1,000 toward the cost of storage fees when their car is disposed

In 2011, the city doubled nearly all fines for impoundment in an effort to generate $14 million in revenue. But revenue actually decreased over a nine-year period, from $15.9 million in 2010 to $14.9 million in 2019, city officials said.

“It is critical that we take this step to help residents that for far too long have suffered at a disproportional impact from an outdated program that too frequently resulted in thousands of dollars in fines and loss of personal property,” Lightfoot said.

Last year, City Council approved a number of enforcement-related reforms, including eliminating city sticker ticket debt for low-income Chicagoans who can’t afford it; eliminating license suspensions for non-driving violations and launching new payment plan options.

The city also ended the practice of shutting off water due to unpaid utility bills.

People who need help paying off debt owed to the city should visit New Start Chicago, a city website with information on payment plans, hardship qualifications and other fine and fee reforms.

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