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Companies unlikely to ruin credit ratings on unpaid parking tickets
Published Tuesday, October 26, 2010 6:10PM MDT
If you've ever gotten a parking ticket on a privately operated lot, you will want to hear this.
CTV consumer specialist Lea Williams-Doherty found out you don't have to worry about companies ruining your credit if you don't pay the tickets you receive in privately owned parking lots.
Williams-Doherty started looking into this after she was contacted by a woman who got a letter from a collections agency for an unpaid parking ticket in a downtown lot.
Liza Mulholland says she was never even aware that she got the ticket. And she did not receive any follow-up notices from the parking lot company.
So she was shocked when a collections letter arrived demanding $110 for a $30 ticket.
The letter said if she didn't pay up, the collection action may be documented on her personal credit file.
Now Mulholland says she feels she has to pay or the company will put a black mark on her credit report.
"They've got my address, my name, likely my phone number. What else do they have that they can just manipulate my information like that? I don't understand it," Mulholland said.
Williams-Doherty contacted the two credit bureaus, Transunion and Equifax, to see if they accept unpaid private parking lot fees as a debt that should be put on a credit report.
Transunion said: "In regard to collections accounts, it is Transunion's policy not to report parking fines on the consumer credit report. Additionally, Transunion does not accept direct reporting by parking facility operators."
Equifax said: "If you park in a private parking lot and do not pay the fee, since there is no contractural agreement (or proof), it would not be reported."
That means parking companies and the collections agencies they hire cannot put unpaid tickets on your credit report.
They say unpaid invoices "may be documented on your personal credit file" in their collections letters because if they took you to court, got a judgment, and you still didn't pay, then the credit bureaus would put that on your credit report.
But that's not likely to happen, and not what people think of when they read unpaid tickets might land on their credit bureau reports.
Williams-Doherty said you can challenge the additional charges private companies often tack on to unpaid parking invoices.
The law now says that if lot operators post clear signage indicating they are offering to enter into a contract and provide the terms of the contract, customers who park their cars are deemed to have accepted that, including the obligation to pay an additional charge if they don't pay the posted rate.
But not all lot operators have posted clear signs to that effect. And those that haven't aren't legally entitled to charge any more than the amount you should have paid the day you parked.
Most of the parking lots owned by Impark, the largest lot operator in Calgary, appeared to have clear signs posted stating you agree to pay the higher amount if you don't pay the posted rate.
However, Vinci, the second largest operator, did not post clear signs indicating additional fees could be charged. The same goes for some lots operated by smaller companies.
So, if there was no notice additional fees would be charged if you don't pay the posted rate, you have grounds to challenge attempts to collect more than that.
"The signage must be clear so the consumer can read it and know what they have to do when they pay and put the tag in their car," said Service Alberta Minister Heather Klimchuk.
And before lot operators can send you to collections, they have to figure out who owns the car. They can obtain that information without violating privacy laws through provincial legislation that creates an exception to privacy laws for parking lot operators.
That is one sign you'll see on every lot, which says: "In accordance with the legislation of Alberta, the registrar of motor vehicle services may release the name and address of the owner of any vehicle parked in this lot without displaying proof of payment."
There are restrictions on the purpose for which the companies can use your information and the length of time they can retain your information and that satisfies privacy laws.
Klimchuk said she knows downtown is getting busier for drivers and she wants to hear from consumers that are having problems with private parking lots.
If you think lot operators are not following the rules or have treated you unfairly, you can report that to Service Alberta.