The Parking Ticket I’ll Never Pay: Providence, Rhode Island

When I spent an evening in Providence, Rhode Island a few 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!

providence parking ticket - providence overnight parking ban

Dealing With a Providence Parking Ticket

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.

Current Status of the Providence Overnight Parking Ban

Residents of Providence have been furious about the overnight parking ban and it finally was changed, with a pilot resident permit parking program. Click the link to find the latest info on the overnight parking situation in the city, including annual fees, how to obtain and display the permits, and where you can legally park overnight in Providence.

News of the city’s recent overnight parking changes is good to hear. But since this happened to me years ago, I was seemingly out of luck.

Since I couldn’t appeal the Providence parking 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 refused 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 2017: 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 or done any damage to my credit in any way. So far, so good.

UPDATE 2020: I recently discovered this article which details the mess that was created when it was revealed that the mayor’s office had been on the receiving end of 119 unpaid parking tickets dating back to 2003. Even the mayor doesn’t seem to understand Providence’s parking regulations.

UPDATE 2022: I don’t want to spend the night in Providence again, out of protest. But I’m fine passing through Rhode Island on my way to somewhere else. Recently I visited several of the giant Mr. Potato Head statues scattered throughout the state.

Have you received a Providence parking ticket under similar circumstances? Check out the comments below for personal anecdotes from frustrated readers!

43 thoughts on “The Parking Ticket I’ll Never Pay: Providence, Rhode Island”

  1. Before I start: I once got a parking ticket in NJ saying I had “abandoned my vehicle,” which was parked legally outside my apartment, bc apparently you have to move your car at least a little if it’s there for an extended time, rather than it clearly not budging an inch for ages at a time. The brakes were busted at the time, so it wasn’t drivable, but apparently that didn’t matter. It escalated until they eventually impounded my car, suspended my license, and even put out a warrant for my arrest! I was young, dumb, and had pretty severe & untreated mental health issues at that point, so I didn’t do anything about it for years. So believe me when I say that I understand how frustrating and upsetting this stuff can be.

    But I also have an apparently-unpopular opinion on this one. I’ve lived in multiple states & cities since I started driving (I’m only 31, but went to school outside RI, and have lived or stayed in NJ & NYC). One thing I have learned is that MANY cities do not allow overnight parking. If something is illegal in the entire city, it’s absolutely ridiculous to expect the city to pay for signs every 100 yards on EVERY street. Especially since when I say “the city,” I really mean the taxpayers.

    It’s like right turns on red— that law varies by state, and bc RI allows them, they only post signs when it is NOT allowed. Why should they put a sign at every single stop light telling you it’s allowed, when it’s a state law? Same goes here.

    I have sympathy for the OP, bc it looks like it was 2011 or earlier, and I know I personally didn’t have a smart phone yet then. But these days, nope. If you’re parking somewhere unfamiliar, pull out your phone and check the laws where you are. If you can’t for whatever reason and are visiting someone, ask them. I ALWAYS ask someone or look online to figure out the parking situation before I even plan where to stay, bc this is super common in a lot of places.

    Also, many cities WILL allow you to stay overnight for one night if you call the nonemergency police line and tell them you’re visiting for one night, and the place you’re staying doesn’t have parking. They’ll put your license plate on a no-ticket list, and you’re golden. If they don’t allow that, they’ll almost always direct you to somewhere you CAN park legally overnight. Yes, that might be a garage or somewhere you have to pay, but again— this is why I do research before I travel with a car.

    Is it annoying, and I will admit that it’s probably largely intended to make money off tickets. But having lived in Providence for six or seven years now, I can personally attest that it is a NIGHTMARE to drive many of these streets when there are cars parked on them, nevermind on both sides (which is rarely legal any time except on the largest streets). This city’s buildings & roads were largely built for horses & carriages, not planned out with cars in mind. And when it starts to snow, forget about it. The law has some really practical reasons. Do you really want us to then try that in the middle of the night? Your mirror will be gone by morning.

    Tldr: if you’re traveling by car, look up the parking situation ahead of time. These days, almost everyone can check on the spot as well. Assume overnight parking is illegal unless you know otherwise. Simple as.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think your own example defeats your argument. Turning right on red is almost always legal, so when it’s not, a sign must be posted. Similarly, overnight parking is almost always legal, so when it’s not, a sign should be posted. This is easy.

      Expecting everyone who parks on a street anywhere to research parking laws is absurd. Most people have smartphones now, but some do not. And not everyone who has a smartphone has unlimited data.

      It is not hard to post signs on every street about this. Many cities do exactly that. If it’s about snow, Providence can do what Chicago does – post signs explaining that overnight parking regulations are different when it snows. These are posted on dozens of streets:

      Overnight parking bans are absolutely not “super common.” I’ve spent months driving through all 50 states. These bans are quite rare.

  2. You should see the cameras they just set up everywhere in town that snap a photo and send you a ticket if you go 2 or 3 mph over the limit.

  3. So I found your post because I too am a victim of providence parking. Here’s the best part. My kid started college there in sept. She drove her car there last week for the first time (from NY) parked overnight on Halloween on the first nt and low d behold got a ticket. Here’s the best part! Her passenger window was smashed !! No telling if the cop didn’t see it at 250 am or it happened after however wtf…

  4. Jessica Boettger

    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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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..

    1. You could try doing what I did, just ignore the ticket and subsequent notices from collection agencies. But often with rental cars, the rental car agency requires you to pay the ticket, so you might be out of luck in that regard. It’s frustrating to hear they still haven’t fixed this problem.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

  8. Did you ever get in trouble for this ticket? My boyfriend and I both parked our cars overnight on a street with no signs. Ridiculous!

    1. 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. 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.

  10. 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..

    1. 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!

  11. 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 🙂

  12. 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!

  13. That is stupid, expecting others to know not to park with no signs? I bet they are just trying to collect more $$ through this method. Moreover, what happens to the people with cars but do not have a parking garage? Where do they park?

    1. Catherine Breaux

      And when there’s a parking ban for snow even though I bought a 100$ parking pass to park in front of my own house…..during a ban the city provides NO PARKING options ZeRO. we have nowhere to go but risk being towed!

  14. 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.

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

  15. 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 !

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

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