Parking madness: Do you have to pay shopping centre fines?

DRIVERS who stay too long in shopping centre car parks are being threatened of fines topping $70, but legal experts say there is little chance of them standing up in court.

The ABC reports that a woman in Toowoomba, Queensland was targeted because her parking ticket was "upside down" in the car.

Annemarie Stower said she attempted to explain the situation to Australian National Carparks, but was told she still had to pay up.

Others have reported finding $88 fines on their cars, even as they returned to their car before the parking deadline.

The ANCP tells customers that the unpaid "debt" would be first sent to a collection agency, then potentially result in legal action.

Conditions listed by ANCP.
Conditions listed by ANCP.

See a larger version of ANCP's terms and conditions here

On the Sunshine Coast, a driver told the ABC how he copped a $77 ticket from Traffic Monitoring Systems for staying too long at the Big Top Shopping Centre.

When he refused to pay, he was sent a legal letter demanding $99 and a threat of legal action.

In November 2016, owners of Big Top faced claims that its parking signage was on an up-ramp, where drivers would almost certainly fail to see it.

Queensland property lawyer Tim O'Dwyer said it was legal to issue the notice, which amounted to a contract. The deal is done when the driver sees the parking lot conditions and continues to enter.

Meanwhile courts could find those terms unfair if it considers "a consumer who enters your car park has automatically agreed to your terms and conditions", according to a Queensland Government site.

It also outlines that to enforce such a payment, the parking firm would have to take action with the courts.

If a dispute arises, the firm "must not threaten the customer, or misrepresent your right to payment for breach of contract".

Mr O'Dwyer told the ABC that such demands were unlikely to convince a court.

"I'm not aware of anyone actually being sued by the parking company, or the shopping centre," he said.

He said such a case would need to face the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and would difficult to prove.

He is not the only one to make such a case.

Schultz Toomey O'Brien practice group leader Travis Schultz described in 2015 how car park operators had no authority to issue fines, so rely on "legalese" about binding contracts or "liquidated assets".

Now principal of Travis Schultz Law, he said in a statement that car park operators had no authority to issue fines. 

He said the higher the fine, the more likely the operator would fail in court.

"The lower the number, the more likely it is to be enforceable."

In 2014, CHOICE said the set-up of "free" car parks could be deceptive.

"The number of consumers who receive a demand after parking at a 'first hour free' car park is high, and all of them say they are misled by the signs'.

"If it's mandatory for all drivers to display a ticket, why not have the ticket machine at the boom gate like legitimate car parks?"

According to CHOICE, car parking firm Ace Parking was forced to pay $14,500 after it violated the Fair Trading Act by issuing fines and threatening legal action without legal authority.

CHOICE recommends contacting Fair Trading if you have a concern.

News Corp Australia

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