CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – A company issued its own parking tickets at a lot in downtown Charleston, telling drivers they had to pay for committing a violation. Now, following an investigation by Live 5 Investigates, city officials are warning that if the parking operation comes back without the go-ahead, the company could be the one facing fines.
“You are currently operating a private parking business without a license or the required city approvals,” Charleston city attorney Julia Copeland wrote to Parking Management Company on Nov. 23. “This operation must stop immediately or you will be liable to fines and penalties. “
From exploring the aquarium to getting a $ 20 fine
Located at 7 Calhoun Street at the corner of Concord Street, the lot in question is a vacant property near the South Carolina Aquarium and the ferry to Fort Sumter National Monument.
Eric Johnston said he parked there three times recently to take his son to the aquarium, but didn’t know it would come at a cost.
“I thought this parking lot would be a good place to park,” said Johnston, explaining how difficult it can be to find a spot on the narrow, crowded streets of the peninsula. “I saw everyone pull up here.”
Johnston says he had no problem parking on the unpaved lot the first two times, but when he returned to his car after his third visit to the aquarium on November 10, he found a surprise on his windshield.
“[I] got here and had a parking ticket, ”said Johnston. “I was thinking [it] was a real Charleston city parking ticket and when I took a closer look it wasn’t. I was a little suspicious because the mailing address to return a check was a Tennessee address.
The envelope containing “PMC – Charleston Parking Violation” included PMC’s name, the location of the company’s Nashville office and a link to submit disputes.
“I’m pretty sure whoever’s on the other side of that email address isn’t a judge,” Johnston said.
The ticket contained a barcode and QR code, noting that the driver would owe $ 20 for a “non-payment” “violation” if payment was made within 10 days. The cost would increase to $ 25 if payment was made after 10 days and to $ 70 if payment was submitted after 30 days.
Johnston contacted Live 5 Investigates to ask if he should pay a ticket issued by a private company, not the Charleston Parking Enforcement Division.
Private parking tickets: Pay or ignore?
Unlike other cities and states, there are no ordinances in Charleston or laws in South Carolina regarding companies issuing their own parking vouchers.
“We are not aware of a legal provision that would allow a private landowner to create a new parking ticket that would give any court comparable jurisdiction,” the director of communications for the attorney general’s office said in part. South Carolina, Robert Kittle.
“Of course, South Carolina law expressly provides that a private landowner can have unauthorized vehicles towed off their private property,” Kittle noted, citing legislation that prohibits people from parking on unauthorized land. public without approval.
If you park on private property and receive a company issued parking ticket, do you have to pay? In South Carolina, the answer is not clear.
“The problem is, they’re mimicking what the state and municipalities are doing by writing their parking tickets,” said Michelle Hubrich, a Summerville-based lawyer.
Hubrich says such quotes look more like bills than traditional banknotes, making them “sort of inapplicable.”
“It’s not illegal,” Hubrich said. “Do you have to pay it?” If you knew you had to pay to park on this lot, you should probably pay it if it’s a reasonable rate. If that’s what you would have paid to park there anyway, you will probably have to pay it. Now what if you don’t pay is another question.
Businesses are allowed to report people who fail to pay their breach fees to credit bureaus and debt collection services, according to Hubrich, but those drivers can order debt collectors to stop contacting them.
Hubrich said that because of the 2017 National Consumer Assistance Plan, which prevents debts that have not been accrued under contracts from showing up on credit reports, “if you don’t pay this bill, they really have no way of suing you for paying that parking ticket because it won’t show up on your credit report now.
“If they don’t go to a collection agency and they really want your $ 20 parking fee, they can sue you… in small claims court and that’s when they get an order. of the enforceable court, ”Hubrich added. “They’re not going to do it because they have to pay to go to small claims court and really that $ 20 parking fee isn’t worth it for them.”
From invoicing for parking to receiving a letter of cessation and abstention
After Johnston released the citation he received at 7 Calhoun Street, Live 5 Investigates visited the field on November 17. At the time, a handful of small signs with the PMC logo facing the interior of the property were visible, warning that payment could only be made by text.
One of the signs reads “Public Parking Paid Lot”, noting that “violators are subject to a ticket and towing”.
“People who do not pay for posted parking will be considered trespassers,” another sign said. “Payments for violation or [sic] the operator’s parking rules are immediately due to the operator. The parking fees and charges collected by the operator are past due and if not paid within 14 days, they will be considered in default and will be returned for collection to a debt collector.
Live 5 Investigates then contacted the City of Charleston for comment on the legality of the transaction.
“I heard about it for the first time on Monday [Nov. 22] after Channel 5 reached out and signaled that there may be potential unauthorized activity on private land, ”Copeland said in an interview.
The next day, after discussions among several city departments, Copeland sent the letter ordering PMC to cease operations in the field.
“It has been brought to our attention that your company is using this space beyond its original intention transmitted to the city in April 2021 as ‘hotel valet operations’,” the letter from Copeland reads in part.
County records indicate that 7 Calhoun Street is owned by RB Charleston, LLC, which has the same address in Ohio as a company known as Rockbridge. City minutes show that there were previously plans from Rockbridge to develop a hotel on the premises.
Copeland said PMC’s lease agreement for the property expires on December 15, explaining that after the letter was sent, “they just decided to shut down the business instead of trying to get the permits. in a short period of time “.
When Live 5 Investigates returned to 7 Calhoun Street on November 24, all displayed PMC signs were gone, although a number of drivers still parked in the parking lot to tour the aquarium and Fort Sumter.
It remains unclear whether anyone who could have paid PMC citations issued in the field without a license will be able to get their money back.
PMC and Rockbridge did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Johnston says he has no plans at all to pay his citation or bring his car when he visits the peninsula in the future.
“It’s just not worth parking in downtown Charleston anymore,” said Johnston.
If you have an idea for a story for Live 5 Investigates, call 843-402-5678 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2021 WCSC. All rights reserved.