Friday, 28 February 2014

The parking contract

Signs have recently appeared at the entrance to a car park associated with a local store.    I know that the land is owned by the store, although it's adjacent to some council-owned parking.    For some reason, however, the owner (a large ASX listed entity) has chosen not to have the Council enforce  the time limits that it wants to apply or to go to the expense of installing boom gates (perhaps because there isn't room for "in" and "out" lanes), but instead has invoked the services of a private contractor.  Note that the legislation (here*) allowing Councils and car park owners to enter into this type of arrangement (section 90D) also prohibits private wheel clamping (section 90C).

The signs, in effect, state that by parking your car there, you've accepted the terms of a "contract", which include an obligation to comply with time limits etc.  If you don't comply, then you're liable to pay "damages".

I see that Consumer Affairs Victoria mention these arrangements, but let me relate the tale of my encounter with the operator of another such car park.

A car registered in my name was on permanent loan to a family member, who was not living with us.    It appears that the car entered the car park concerned and didn't comply with the "terms" of the alleged contract.  I don't know who was driving the car as it may have been lent to another person (possibly a flatmate).   Well over a year after the incident, I received a letter, requiring payment of an amount of money (by way of "damages"), and stating that the delay in writing was because the operator had been required to go to court to obtain an order that VicRoads reveal the registration details of the car.

I'm not suggesting the letter I received was misleading ( see here), but I wrote back stating that I was unclear how the "damages" claimed had been calculated, and moreover, I had not been the driver of the car, as at the time the car was in the possession of a family member, who may or may not have been the actual driver at the time of the incident.  Whoever the driver had been, they were certainly not acting as my agent in entering into any "contract" for the parking of the car.

Since that time, I have been looking forward to putting forward my side of the story to a court when the threatened legal action to enforce the payment (or to find out from me who was the driver) was instituted, but so far I have heard nothing.  In fact, although I haven't checked the dates, it may well be that when the action is in fact taken (!), I'll be able to add a Statute of Limitations defence to everything else!

* Note: There have been minor amendments to these provisions since 1996 (they're part of the Road Safety Act), but it's far, far more convenient to look at the 1996 Act rather than trawl through the immense Road Saftey Act to find these provisions.  The substance remains the same.

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