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Do you have to pay parking tickets from a private company?

You parked your car on private property like a mall parking lot, and have come back to find a ticket under the windshield. It looks official and carries a big fine.

Don’t panic. Take a close look at the ticket. Was it issued by the city or a private company? If it’s the latter, the ticket may not be enforceable or, in some cases, even legal.

Private parking companies often issue their own tickets, but their legitimacy depends on city bylaws. In some areas, companies are not officially licensed as a ticketing agency and can do little to enforce their fines.

In Toronto and Edmonton for example, private companies need city authorization to issue tickets.

They sometimes demand exorbitant amounts in the hundreds of dollars but “allow” you to pay a token amount like $25 or 10 per cent if you pay within a few days.

In many cases, these companies have no official right to ticket you and you may choose to ignore the fine. However, that can still carry some risks.

The company itself will keep records of your licence plate, and if you continue to park in its lots without paying previous fines, it could tow your car.  If that happens, you’ll then have to pay the tickets and towing fines, which can be steep.

Also, lacking other enforcement, private companies will typically threaten to send your bill to a collection agency, which could have an adverse effect on your credit score. Canada’s major credit reporting agencies, Transunion and Equifax, don’t count unpaid tickets against your credit score, but a referral to a collection agency could hurt you.

If you’re unsure about the legitimacy of a privately issued ticket, you can contact your local police to ask. Also, look in to the company itself; they typically offer an appeal mechanism and you may be able to get the ticket dropped.  

Unfair parking fees on private lots - CBC Marketplace