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Updated: Mon, 28 Oct 2013 22:45:53 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Drivers fined for parking when not parked



A company that says it’s the world’s largest privately-owned parking firm is again under fire from drivers, who complain they were slapped with unjustified $110 fines. Left: Diamond Parking ticketed Jade Messiah's car for being parked a time when she was nowhere near the parking lot. Right: John Leonard is a bylaw enforcement officer who went to bat for his brother-in-law, to fight a violation notice sent out by Diamond. CBC

A company that says it’s the world’s largest privately-owned parking firm is again under fire from drivers, who complain they were slapped with unjustified $110 fines. Left: Diamond Parking ticketed Jade Messiah's car for being parked a time when she was nowhere near the parking lot. Right: John Leonard is a bylaw enforcement officer who went to bat for his brother-in-law, to fight a violation notice sent out by Diamond. CBC

A company that says it’s the world’s largest privately owned parking firm is again under fire from drivers who complain they were slapped with unjustified $110 fines.

“If they are doing this over and over — they are probably making quite the profit,” Jade Messiah, 20, who was hit with the fine from Diamond Parking in September.

“I think maybe it’s just a money scam.”

Diamond patrols 1,000 private parking lots in B.C., Alberta and several U.S. states.

Go Public has received several complaints from people who believe the company fined them unfairly, over the last two years.

Messiah’s complaint stands out, because she has hard evidence showing she was nowhere near the Diamond-patrolled parking lot, when it claimed she was parked there.

“I was like, there’s no way I am paying this. I know I wasn’t in the city,” she said.

Proof she wasn't there

Messiah is a student who lives in White Rock, B.C., but spends much of her time in the city of Richmond.

The morning she got the parking ticket, she said she left home after 10:30 a.m. and stopped for gas.

Messiah then drove to Richmond, a 35 to 40 minute drive away.

She parked in a Diamond-patrolled lot, which has two hour parking for mall customers.

“I knew there was a two hour parking time limit so I made sure to get out before two hours,” said Messiah, who said she was back at her car around 12:30 p.m.

She said she was shocked to find a $63 ticket on her windshield, suggesting her car was there almost an hour before she’d arrived.

“There’s no way it was possible at all,” she said.

Diamond attendants place chalk marks on vehicle tires then write tickets if they find the vehicle still parked there beyond the lot’s posted time limit.

Messiah’s ticket said her car was ‘chalked’ at 10:27 a.m.

She has a bank records to prove she was actually buying gas, at a Husky station at 10:38 a.m. The station is in White Rock, near her home.

 “I really do think they need to be brought to justice about this and I would like to see it stopped,” said Messiah.

Fine jumps, told to pay

She later got a past due notice in the mail from Diamond, which stated that her fine had jumped to $110.

“I did call [Diamond] and I explained my situation. All the supervisor said to me was, ‘No I’m sorry we can’t listen to you. Our patrol officer says he was there, therefore you were there. You have to pay the ticket.’”

Kevin Roman of Maple Ridge, B.C., is another driver who was upset when a $110 fine from Diamond arrived inexplicably in the mail.

“He got a past due notice. And he was like — ‘wait a minute, from what?’ He didn’t even know what it was about,” said Roman’s brother-in-law John Leonard, who then complained to Diamond on his behalf.

Roman didn’t park in the local mall’s parking area. Instead, he pulled up curbside for a few minutes, in a no-stopping area, where he said he’d seen couriers stop many times.

“I was in my half-ton with a trailer and we were going camping,” said Roman. “Because of my over-length vehicle, I pulled over there.”

He stayed in the vehicle, while his wife ran in to use the nearby bank machine.

Roman said a security guard tapped on his window and told him he couldn’t park there, because it was a fire lane, so he left immediately and parked on the public street. 

“And I didn’t get any parking ticket,” he said.

What Roman didn’t know was, a Diamond attendant patrolling the lot also snapped a picture of his licence plate. Diamond then mailed him the fine for a parking violation.

Diamond attendants record vehicle licence plates, then B.C.’s provincial licensing agency gives the company the address of the registered owner. The Insurance Corporation of B.C. has said this is perfectly legal. It is how Diamond knows where to mail its violation notices.

Fines cancelled after complaints

The company acknowledges what happened in these cases and told Go Public it has cancelled the fines for both Messiah and Roman. In the second case though, Diamond maintains the fine was justified.

“We are under contract with the mall property manager to enforce this exact form of infraction for the safety of the general public,” said Diamond’s Vancouver manager Michael Murray. “This area is clearly marked as a fire lane.”

Roman’s brother-in-law, who is a bylaw enforcement officer, questions how Diamond can issue tickets and fines when there is no law explicitly giving it authority to do so.

“I don’t see anywhere in legislation that says a private parking company can even write those tickets in the first place,” said Leonard, who said the company said if his brother-in-law paid $40, the fine would be cancelled immediately.

“He’s being told we’ll give you a deal if you just pay.… As a bylaw officer, when I write a ticket, I have to prove that in court.”

Diamond says it has sought legal opinions on its practices and it points out, in most cases, it is working for private clients on private property.

“We can designate any area as, 'no parking' for any reason and enforce it accordingly,” said Murray.

It also says it cancels many of the fines when people complain.

“Inevitably, a small percentage of consumers that are issued notices are going to feel that they have been wrongfully ticketed and will contact us,” said Murray.

“I can tell you that we void a significant percentage of the notices we issue as a courtesy to those that receive them, or on behalf of our client that we have been contracted to serve.”

Others still pay 

Messiah and Leonard suspect many more people simply pay, because they’re intimidated by the official looking fines and they fear the bill will be sent to collections, which Diamond does regularly.

“People are afraid. They don’t want the hassle. They go, ‘what is this? Oh I’m just going to pay this because I don’t want my credit ruined’,” said Leonard. “It’s just bonus money in [Diamond’s] pocket.”

“It’s rare that people will go to this extent to get something taken care of,” said Messiah.

Hamilton lawyer David Thompson tried unsuccessfully to mount a class action against Impark — another large private parking company — for issuing similar parking fines in Ontario. 

He is calling on provincial governments to bring in consumer protection laws to govern the practices of these private parking companies.

"Consumers have no bargaining power to negotiate or alter the terms of [private parking] agreements. Consumers typically do not realize that they will be charged significant fines if they overstay at a lot," said Thompson.

"They might enter a lot with a maximum daily parking rate of $5.... If the consumer overstays, even let’s say by half an hour, they could face a violation fee of close to $70... [which is] 14 times the maximum daily rate."

Consumer Protection B.C. said it has had 55 inquiries about Diamond Parking in the last five years. In Washington state, regulatory authorities have adjudicated 64 complaints against the company since 2009.  

A handful of claims have been filed in B.C. small claims court, but it appears all were settled before trial.

The common theme among all complaints is that when the driver pushes back, Diamond cancels the fine.

Submit your story ideas to Kathy Tomlinson at Go Public 

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