Ask LH: Should I Pay This Private Parking Ticket?

Dear Lifehacker, A couple of weeks ago I received a settlement letter from a private parking company offering a deal where I only would have to pay half a fine I apparently owe. The bill is for $44 for a supposed infringement in a private parking at a local McDonald's four years ago. Though the parking was free the letter claims that I didn't display the free ticket on my dash. Should I pay the fine? It was four years ago and I don't recall having parked at that McDonald's then, and it doesn't have visible signage even today. Any advice? Thanks, McTicket

Photo: foxypar4

Dear McTicket,

Private venues can set their own rules for parking as they see fit, but if as you say there's no visible indication that there's any kind of ticket display system in place even now, I'd say that it's more than likely that the letter you received is extremely suspect, to put it politely.

In order to be able to fine you for what amounts to a contractual breach, you'd have to enter into a contract with them in the first place. There are undeniably McDonalds locations that do have paid parking — mostly in areas where parking is at a premium and they don't want local workers clogging up the car park — but you'll always find a set of rules and regulations for parking at those locations. Very few drivers actually read them, because we're mostly all busy trying to get into the car park in the first place, but they exist so that the private company can enforce its rules. There will usually be a clause to the effect that by entering the car park, you agree to abide by those terms and conditions.

I'd suggest heading to the restaurant and photographing the lack of such a contract, so that if they contact you again, you can simply provide evidence that no such contract exists.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Fines issued by private parking operators are not legally binding, regardless of trhe signposted "rules". ignore it.
    (note that council or police issued tickets are legally binding)

    NSW legal factsheet:

    In short, private companies cannot issue 'fines', nor can they dress their notices to look like fines. Whether or not carpark terms can be considered legally binding is still up in the air. However, the advice does say not to ignore the claim, but to challenge its validity. Otherwise, escalated amounts and default rulings will result and then you will be required by law to pay.

    This is a brilliant site complete with form letter to send the company that is harassing you

    Conditions of entry are also not legally enforceable. It is like saying it is a condition of entry that we can search your bags. All they can do is ask you to leave if you do not comply.

      It's also a condition of entry that if you do say no, you don't have the right to enter the store and they do have the right to stop you. It's a simple one. If you refuse upon exiting the store to show your bag, they have the right to mark you as a suspect and ban you from the premises in future, or even call security on you. However, they do not, in any way, have the right to detain you. Working for DSE we once detained a person who shoplifted from us, they had an item in their bag, however had not left the actual premises with it. We got our asses handed to us when the police arrived. They told us that the person had not A.) Left the store and B.) Had not actually technically stolen it til they had left. The person had actually refused to let us see their bag, but we had bailed them up before they crossed the threshold to the outside area... stupid us. That was in 1999. These days, shopkeepers are a bit more resilient about this stuff. Luckily DSE wasn't sued.

      Last edited 26/02/13 4:44 pm

        haha, I was in Harris Scarfe once and was in a rush. Walking out the door the young chap said "Can I look in your bag" to which I responded whilst briskly walking out "Nah, not today". They legally can't search you. Even if they call Security they can't do anything. All that can really happen is that they would call the police, who probably wouldn't turn up and even if they did you would be long gone.

        What about the people who can't read? Does the contract the shop is trying to enforce not apply to them?

          I do the same. Whenever I'm asked at a store if they can check my bag when I'm walking out I don't even break stride. I just say "No thanks, I'm fine" and keep walking.

          If it happens at the checkout I say the same thing. Half the time the checkout person looks like they've just been confronted with their own mortality for the first time - I guess these are the stores who don't train their staff about bag checks :P

    Some good news on the RMS (formerly the RTA) site!

    "To ensure the protection of our customers' details a new law has been introduced which will no longer require Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) to release personal information to car park operators, under an order for preliminary discovery made by court for the purposes of collecting parking fees. This new law come into operation on 20 November 2012."


    Sounds suspect. It was 4 years ago, how did they even get details to send the letter? The police don't just look up number plate addresses for anyone!

    I think it is a scam, a letter sent to people in the area to see who is dumb enough to pay. Ignore it, if they send you another letter then write back asking for proof, or take the letter to the police and ask them if it is legitimate.

      Yeah I'm with Ned. Sounds like a scam. Don't waste any more of your time & see if they make contact again, although snapping a few pics of the McD's entrance(s) proving there's no current paid parking requirements wouldn't hurt. You could also check pics of the McD's using Google Maps Street View & see if there was any now-removed paid parking notices from when the Google car went past, since Street View now says "Image Date: Month Year" down the bottom left (was Nov 2009 around my area, so 3 1/4 years ago).

    Along with the other advise, places commonly take a photo of your car parked to prove you were there. Ask them to send you the photo of your car! Maybe wait until they contact again, it does sound like a scam and you don't want to waste your time on a scam, though if it isn't a scam, better to get in touch with them proactively even though you're probably in the clear (getting in touch doesn't mean pay it, but question the validity of the ticket.)

    Take the letter to the police. There is possibly a scam operating in the area.

    Sounds like a scam to me. Contact the McDonalds store that supposedly issued the fine and find out what they have to say about it. That will determine what your next move is.

    I could be wrong, but I think if all entrances to a private car park have signs indicating conditions of entry, you automatically agree to the conditions of entry if you continue. The onus is on the driver to ensure the vehicle is legally parked. But, as I said, I may be wrong.

    If McDonalds admit to issuing the fine, ask what legislation they get their authority from. I wouldn't mind knowing what it is, so please post it here if you find out.

    If they do have the right to issue an infringement, the onus is on them to prove that you were parked contrary to an official sign—there has to be signs. No signs, no fine. A photo of your vehicle is not proof of an offense if it doesn't show a) the signage, and b) your dash minus the FREE ticket.

    According to legislation, an infringement notice issued to a vehicle must be attached to that vehicle in a conspicuous manner—hence parking inspectors sticking it to your windscreen, or delivered to the registered address of the vehicle owner within specific time (I'm not sure of the exact duration, especially for different states).

    But, I still think it's a scam.

    Even if the signpost exists, it's pretty damn hard to show that you viewed it and accepted the unilateral contract via specific performance (ie, entering the car park). Especially if the sign is somewhere where you would not have an opportunity to read all the t&cs (like on the side of the road) or where you don't see the sign until you have already parked.

    Ticket is a scam regardless.

      jjcf, tell a police officer that you didn't see the 60 sign, or the STOP sign and it won't matter squat. Same goes for parking signs. As I said, it's the drivers responsibility to ensure they are complying with the law, or legislation. Ignorance of the law is no defense. Although, it may be a defense if you can prove the sign was missing, located inappropriately, or obstructed in some way. Permissive parking signs (no stopping, disabled, etc.) require TWO signs to be enforceable: They apply to a "length of road" and require a closing sign (look for the directional arrows on the sign). Have a look through the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act.

      Private parking may be different. It would depend on the legislation they use.

        Private parking is a contractual issue. So, basically, everything you said is irrelevant.

      I got a demand from a lawyer called Harry Freedman after ignoring a letter of demand from Australian National Car Parks. The letter from Harry Freedman claims that I have to either pay the amount, or name who was driving my car at the time. I found the following webpage about Harry Freedman that says that is a load of bollocks. See Sorry Harry Freedman, you won't be getting a cent out of me. The website says they have no legs to stand on if you can't remember who the driver was. It says that unlike council parking fines (which it also has a page on see ) the concept of owner onus does not apply to private car parks.

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