The parking ticket I’ll never pay

When I spent an evening in Providence, Rhode Island a couple years back, I parked my van on a residential street overnight. I parked right next to a sign that said “No Parking 8am-10am,” so I knew that I’d have to get up early to move the van before 8. That was not a problem.

Imagine my surprise in the morning when I saw a $20 parking ticket on my windshield. This doesn’t make sense, I thought. It’s not 8 am yet!

VANProve

The ticket was issued at 4:50 am and the alleged violation was ambiguous. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong. I did some online research and discovered that overnight street parking is banned in the entire city of Providence.

My initial reaction was, Where were the signs? I’d passed through a few other cities that also ban overnight parking, like Beverly Hills, and a couple small Northeast towns, and all of those cities posted very obvious signs indicating that overnight parking was banned. Providence had no signs. In fact, the sign I parked right next to said “No parking 8am-10am.” If parking was also banned overnight, why wouldn’t the sign say “No parking 12am-10am”?

I called the Providence parking authority to inquire about this issue. The woman confirmed that overnight parking was banned. I asked her where the signs were. She said there are no signs. No signs in the entire city? Right. Then how was I supposed to know overnight parking was banned? She had no answer, except to inform me that I could challenge the citation by appearing in Providence court. I only had one day in my schedule for Rhode Island, so there was no way I was going to hang around for a few more days to go through the appeals process.

Residents of Providence have been furious about the overnight parking ban and it’s finally about to be repealed, with a pilot resident permit parking program. But that’s little consolation to me.

Since I couldn’t appeal the ticket, I simply didn’t pay. My budget for this trip was very tight and I couldn’t afford to throw away $20. But more importantly, I refuse to pay money for violating an ordinance that I couldn’t possibly have known existed. In fact, it’s my belief that Providence’s overnight parking ban exists merely as a way to extort money from unsuspecting out-of-towners.

I later received notices from a collection agency stating that I owed $60 due to interest and penalties. Fortunately, I knew about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a law that enables consumers who are being hounded by collection agencies to send them a letter informing them that you dispute the debt and you have no intention of paying.

Once the agency receives this letter from you, they are legally required to stop contacting you. Their only recourse at that point, if they really want to force you to pay, is to file a lawsuit. Most agencies just don’t bother, especially if the amount in question is small.

I fired off my letter to the collection agency informing them that I won’t be paying this ticket. Legally, the city could now sue me if they want, but that would be silly and probably create more of a PR black eye for them. The City of Providence will not see one penny from me, ever. Score one for the little guy!

UPDATE 7/15/15: Since this post has been attracting an influx of new visitors, here’s an update. Every couple of years, I get a bill from a new collection agency that has acquired this “debt.” I send off the aforementioned letter informing them I don’t believe the debt is valid and have no plans to pay, and I never hear from them again. This debt has never appeared on any of my credit reports. So far, so good.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

38 comments on “The parking ticket I’ll never pay

  1. Good for you! I don’t know how they would expect every person to know every parking violation without posting a sign.

    We got two parking tickets in Italy, but we never saw any signs and the ticket was never left on our windshield. When we got back home we received a letter, in Italian, about our violations. Since it was a rental car, the car company used our credit card to pay the 90 Euro in tickets without our knowledge. By then, it was too late to do much about it.
    Annette | Bucket List Journey recently posted..Hunting for a Rock Star in Jerome, Arizona

  2. No signs, no ticket – isn’t that the law? Such a silly ticket. And, I’m glad you fought it. I think all traffic cops are rascals. In Seattle, they start work right before 8AM, and like vultures, they circle cars that have not yet moved so that when 8AM came, they know exactly where to go. Oh, the inhumanity!
    Sherry recently posted..“Playing with Endangered Sea Turtles”

  3. Good for you for fighting it !

    This sort of fine is one of my pet hates. Laws that are supposedly meant to protect us and make our lives better are being abused by local authorities to make money. Notice how the initial fine is small so most people won’t bother appealing it, then if you do the yslap a bigger one on you. Its Why is it that at 8:01 there’s always a so called “trafic cop” to put a ticket on your car, but the night that your car, parked in the very same spot, gets broken into theres no-one around ?

    Rant over !

  4. I didn’t know about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, either…. that might get put into practice one of these days. 😉

    We almost ran into something similar in Key West – you can’t park overnight pretty much anywhere in the Keys, but there aren’t any signs about it. We searched online because we had a sneaking suspicion (Key West is damn hoity-toity), but otherwise we never would have known.
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Another Digital Nomad Goes to Chiang Mai

    • Hmm, that’s interesting about Key West. I paid for a parking garage there but otherwise I suspect I would have gotten another ticket!

  5. That does sound incredibly stupid to me — no warning signs!

    But you need to be careful with these kinds of fines if you’re a non-U.S. citizen. I had a friend who got a speeding fine while in the U.S. many years ago. He never knew about it because he left the country. Then he was offered a job in the U.S. and his prospective employer discovered there was an arrest warrant out for him for the unpaid fine. It took a long time and a lot of money to sort it out, so he could experience the joy of living in a rundown bedsit in New York — truly living the dream!
    Barbara – The Dropout Diaries recently posted..Balloons At Sunrise

  6. Something similar happened to me in Santa Monica, California – I got a ticket for parking illegally at a time when I was OUT OF THE COUNTRY and my car was in my garage. Of course, I couldn’t challenge it, as the only allow you 30 days to challenge it, and I was out of the country for 6 weeks, so by the time I even knew about it “oops…sorry. You’ll have to pay”.

    Wrong. I did the same as you. Simply refused. 8 years later, I occasionally get a letter from a new credit agency saying I owe $340.

    I live outside the US and have no intention of ever living there again. Good luck collecting 🙂

  7. Same exact scenario played out for me last week.. NO signs posted anywhere… I could have parked in the Providence Place Mall for $20 bucks, but decided to get up early, grab a coffee, and feed the meter instead… my mistake… I spent the day wondering what other city laws I they weren’t telling me about that I might be breaking… total scam..

    • Ugh, I’m sorry to hear they haven’t rectified this situation yet. Hopefully you made your feelings known to the parking authority so they know how upset people are about this law. Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. Providence, RI, like Minneapolis, MN and many other municipalities stick it to people LEFT and Right. They disguise themselves as public servants but are true enemies of the public and should be ashamed of themselves.

    • Hi Ashley, I got a letter from a collection agency, but I sent them the letter stating that I was refusing to pay (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act), and that’s the last I’ve heard of it. I’m disappointed to hear they still haven’t put up any signs.

  9. Hey on the 4th of July I was on the porch with my family when I saw a providence police car stop behind my car. I went up to my car and looked into the cop car but the glare from his headlights were too bright so I just decided to get into my car and move it.. Problem solved right? Apparently not… I just recieved a parking ticket saying I owe $60 from not paying for the ticket from that night! I was shocked b/c the officer never gave me a ticket or gestured for me to stop, honked a horn, Nothing!
    I’m so torn b/c I don’t think it’s right to charge without physically giving me a ticket. The car is technically my moms b/c it’s under her name and she’s slightly worried so wants to pay the $60 in full.. but I want to fight it…
    Any Advice ??? Please and Thank You.

    • Wow, I have never heard of issuing a parking ticket when there was no actual paper ticket given. It sounds like they are stooping to a new low. I would call and plead ignorance and say you never saw a ticket and had no idea there was a ticket. Ask for proof that they even gave you a ticket in the first place. If you are local, you can probably challenge the ticket in court. If you are from out of state, you could do what I did and just not pay it.

  10. I just want to post to say that the same thing happened to me 2 nights ago (May 23, 2015). I parked in a spot listed as “2 hour parking 8am – 6pm”, which in most civilized places means that 6pm – 8am, parking is not monitored and is free. Yep, that’s what we thought until I got up early to move the car and found a 4:34am $20 ticket for “Overtime parking”. Very frustrating. Unfortunately, we had visited with a Rental car, and we were only in Providence over the weekend, so I don’t see any recourse but to pay. From what I can tell, contesting is only in person and I live too far away to show up during business hours. Unless you have any further advice..

  11. I totally sympathize with the “eff it im not paying,” but it’s not a good idea. The system is rigged against you. I don’t know about RI, but I got a parking ticket in PA once. Did you know that if you have one unpaid parking ticket in PA they will put out a warrant for your arrest?

  12. When I google’d my ticket this article came up. It was an entertaining read so I figured I’d share why I was google-ing. I got a ticket last night for the same thing even though I had an overnight visitor’s pass in my windshield! I’m less than thrilled but I’ll end up paying because I need to be able to continue to park there and not risk a boot. Good for you though! I’d be way to nervous to never pay.

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