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Car Rental Agencies, Dealers Forced To Lock Up Keys Under Proposal

By  Alex Nitkin and Heather Cherone | August 31, 2017 5:38pm | Updated on August 31, 2017 5:48pm

 Car dealers and rental car agencies would have to lock up their keys under a proposal before the City Council.
Car dealers and rental car agencies would have to lock up their keys under a proposal before the City Council.
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CITY HALL — City car dealerships and rental agencies would need to keep car keys and temporary license plates locked up under an ordinance approved by a City Council committee on Thursday in an effort to hold down auto thefts.

The measure, passed by the council's public safety committee, would require dealerships and car rental agencies to keep keys to cars "in a secure lockbox inside the salesroom building at all times when the motor vehicle salesroom is not open for business."

In addition, temporary license plates issued to dealerships would have to be "secured to a motor vehicle by tamper-resistant security screws, or placed in a secure lockbox inside the salesroom building."

The ordinance was written in response to waves of cars being driven off dealership and rental lots in the past year, including one heist in April that saw at least eight cars stolen from a Hertz lot at O'Hare Airport.

North Side aldermen Harry Osterman (48th) and Patrick O'Connor (40th) co-wrote the measure after noticing a "flare-up" of cars being driven off dealership lots in their wards, Osterman said.

The ordinance had been drafted to include rental lots at O'Hare and Midway Airport, but its authors agreed to exempt airport lots at the request of rental agencies, the alderman said.

Instead, the measure requires rental agencies to hold regular meetings with city police to review a "security plan" for warding off thieves.

The non-stop deluge of cars rented through airports means they'll have to be regulated differently than other city lots, Osterman said.

"Tens of thousands of cars are rented on a weekly basis and it's a 24-hour operation, so physically locking up a set of car keys is not as easy as it would be for an auto dealership that closes at 6 o'clock," Osterman said. "So we think them meeting with the police on a quarterly basis to review safety operations ... make sure we're getting at what we want to do."

Airport rental agencies have already taken "very proactive steps on their own" to secure their lots, preventing any "major incident" since the Hertz theft in April, according to Sgt. Keith Blair, head of the Chicago Police Department's auto theft division.

Last month, when the measure was first introduced, Blair told council members that cars stolen from dealerships and rental car lots have been used in "crimes of opportunity," including a spate of "bump-and-run" robberies where a victim's car is rear ended, and when the victim gets out to inspect the damage, someone gets into the victim's car and drives away with it.

The stolen cars have also been used in shootings and murders, Blair said.

The measure is expected to be approved by the full council during its next meeting in September.