SF City Attorney: Apps To Rent Public Parking Places “Unfair,” Can Net Users $300 Fines

A cease-and-desist order was issued today by San Francisco’s city attorney to the CEO of a mobile application company that allows motorists to auction off parking spots in the city for money.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today sent a letter to MonkeyParking demanding that the app be removed and that the “unfair” parking scheme end.

The app is only available in San Francisco and Rome. according to its website, “MonkeyParking is the app that lets you make $10 every time you leave a parking spot.”

Parking spot seekers can bid on spots through the mobile app starting at $5 and only pay if they get the spot.

In Herrera’s letter to company CEO Paolo Dobrowolny, who is based in Rome, the city attorney said the company was violating the law.

Herrera cites part of the city police code that prohibits anyone from buying, selling or leasing public street parking. There are associated violations that carry penalties of up to $300.

According to Herrera’s letter, MonkeyParking is also subject to penalties of up to $2,500 under California’s “Unfair Competition Law” if the city were to sue.

Each download, purchase and sale through the app may count as a separate violation, Herrera said.

Herrera has threatened to sue if the startup continues to operate in San Francisco past July 11.

As part of the cease-and-desist demand, Herrera has asked Apple Inc. to remove MonkeyParking from its App Store, where it can be downloaded onto iPhones for free.

Two other startups that allegedly violate state law concerning sales of parking spaces, Sweetch and ParkModo, will also receive cease-and-desist orders from the city attorney this week, according to Herrera’s office.

Sweetch charges a $5 flat fee for users to switch out of a parking spot, and refunds $4 to drivers who successfully find someone to take their spot.

Motorists can choose to donate the refund to charity, including the Foundation for Sustainable Development and Bayes Impact, according to the company’s website.

On the website, Sweetch says it helps the environment and eases congestion by shortening the amount of time spent searching for a parking spot.

ParkModo — set to launch this week, according to Herrera’s office — is planning to hire drivers for $13 an hour to occupy parking spots in the Mission District and then sell the spots through an app.

On the company’s website, which states it is testing its services in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, there is an offer to be one of the first 1,000 people to download the app to receive $5 toward parking credit.

In an email this morning from Dobrowolny, co-founder and CEO of MonkeyParking, he said he was still talking with his legal department about the letter and was not able to comment on the cease-and-desist order.

He added, “As a general principle we believe that a new company providing value to people should be regulated and not banned. This applies also to companies like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft that are continuously facing difficulties while delivering something that makes users happy. Regulation is fundamental in driving innovation, while banning is just stopping it.”

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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  • Pontifikate

    “Unfair competition” indeed. Anyone who doesn’t pay $80 a month for a smart phone will have less of a chance to find a parking spot, a public amenity, if you will. That, and using a smart phone while driving (or at a stop sign/light) makes this a very, very bad idea. Hope Herrera succeeds.

    • Elias Levy

      By that same line of reasoning the SFMTA should immediately cease publication of its SF Park smartphone application. It gives an unfair advantage to people with smartphones. Mon dieu!

      Whats more, parking meters cost money. Thus, they give an unfair advantage to the moneyed class. The SFMTA must make all parking free right now!

      • Pontifikate

        You’re taking it to a ridiculous level.

        • Elias Levy

          That was exactly my thought about your comment.