It’s a  jungle out there.
And for those of you hunting down your cars final resting place in those suburban supermarket car parks, you better watch out. For lurking behind every concrete pole and tree are those charming patrol people, ready to pounce the minute you break their car park company’s rules. But let’s cut to the chase. Do they have a right to ‘fine’ you if you don’t pay a fee; don’t put a ticket on your dash; or overstay their limited period of grace?

Well, the first thing to put straight is they don’t have any right to ‘fine’ you.  A few years ago a private car park operator, ACE Parking Pty Ltd, was hauled over the coals by the Victorian Supreme Court for using terms on their parking tickets that misled consumers about their rights.  The Court also found that requests for payments issued by ACE mimicked fines issued by the local council, using terminology like ‘offence’, ‘breach’ and ‘fines.’ What scallywags indeed! It is important to know that private car park operators do not  have a right to ‘fine’ consumers. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped these private car park companies from continuing on their merry way.  These days, when you get back to your car and find a ticket  on your windshield, it will still have the look of a ‘fine’ but it’s really just a claim for ‘damages’ because you broke the contract.

And what contract was that I hear you say?  Well these companies have signs placed here and there around the car parks which have longwinded terms that you must agree to in order to park your car. I tried once to read one  that was placed very conveniently at the car park entrance, but was advised by the driver directly behind me to “get a bloody move on”. The terms are normally written in print so small that even the meanest optometrist would not use them to check your distance vision. For example, if you stay too long in the car park, or don’t have your ticket displayed, this supposedly  breaches the contract. The amount for payment on the ticket stuck on your window is supposed to represent the loss (or liquidated damages)  suffered by the company.
However, many unhappy consumers receiving these demands have wondered exactly what sort of grand loss was really suffered by these companies. One angry parker, Mr John Vico, took the matter concerning his ‘fine’ to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Vico v Care Park Pty Ltd).      Mr Vico  wanted some clarity about whether his $88 ticket for ‘damages’  for not having a ticket was indeed fair.  In this case, the maximum cost he would have paid to park there was only $15.  The hearing was presided over by Mrs Silvana Wilson who stated that: “The sum of $88, when compared to the sum of $15 was “out of all proportion”, it was “extravagant and unconscionable”, it was “in the nature of a punishment” and it was not “a genuine pre-estimate of loss”. The end result was that the car park company was told to reverse out of the Court and never try sneaky exaggeration about ‘damages’  again.  Perhaps if they’d only asked for the $15 the Court might have said, “that’s fair enough”! Now this doesn’t mean that if you get one of these tickets you can just throw it in the bin.

But here’s some pointers that may help you:
Forgot to put the ticket for free parking on your dash and got ‘fined’?
You could ignore this ticket as you haven’t really created a situation where damages are owed.
Overstayed your welcome by an hour or so and got ‘fined’?
Once again, there really isn’t any loss or damage the car park operator has suffered so you really don’t need to pay the ticket.  It’s up to you.
Constantly using the car park every day for your parking and never paying?
For example, your windshield might look like this…

I’m afraid you’ve been rather naughty and have caused ‘damage’ to the car park operator by hogging the property it uses as its business… so you won’t have a strong case for not paying the damages demanded. Finally, do keep in mind that it is quiet a chore for these private car park companies to find out your address details to send follow up notices when you don’t pay.  Often with first time offenders, they just don’t bother chasing you. To make things even worse for them, in Victoria, as of 26 August 2015, there are restrictions on private car park operators accessing your name and address from the VicRoads registration database. Without your name and address they will not be able to issue demands for payment. And definitely don’t write to them and give away the details of your address.
That’s exactly what they want you to do.  Let them do the chasing!
And remember, if you are getting hassled for amounts that don’t seem fair you can always talk to Consumer Affairs.  You may be even entitled to take your complaint to your local small claims tribunal or Court. Oh and one final thing, that parking ticket with the red writing I have pictured here…It’s been 20 months since I got (and ignored) it and I never heard another thing from them.
I guess in some jungles, the bark is a lot worse than the bite!


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Written by The Legal Eagle