A company that manages private parking lots is coming under fire from vehicle owners, who accuse Diamond Parking of pressuring them to pay bogus parking bills.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Richmond resident Tony Wan, who received a bill he believes is not warranted. "If they were valid, I would pay them."
Diamond patrols several parking lots in B.C. and Alberta for property owners. Some are pay-to-park lots and others are restricted parking for customers only.
Wan and his father received a bill mailed to their small business last month, claiming they owed $672 in overdue parking charges, for parking in Diamond lots on six occasions. Wan claims they didn't park in the lots and never received tickets on his vehicles for any violations.
"I actually don't have any idea where these tickets were issued and why they were issued in the first place," said Wan.
The bill doesn't say where the cars were parked and gives no proof of the infractions.
"These bills could be sent to anyone's address and just ask them to pay," said Wan.
No record of tickets
He gave Go Public documentation for what he said are the company's only two vehicles. A check of Diamond's online records shows no tickets issued under those licence plate numbers – raising more questions.
"The plate numbers you provided have never been issued a notice by Diamond Parking," confirmed spokesperson Mike Poirier in an email.
He later wrote, "Please let Mr. Wan know that we have cancelled all notices," as a result of Go Public's inquiries. "There appears to be some issues regarding ... information we were provided."
James Morin came to us with a similar story, after seeing complaints about Diamond online.
"Apparently, I am not the only one," said Morin.
He received a bill in September, ostensibly for parking in one of Diamond's lots. He said he had actually parked in an alley nearby. When he challenged the bill, the company backed down.
"The notice ... has been voided as a one-time courtesy," the company wrote to Morin.
Wan wonders how Diamond knows where to send its bills, since vehicles only have licence plate numbers.
"I have no idea how such a private company would get my address in the first place," he said.
ICBC gives info
The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia gives private parking companies the name and address of a vehicle owner, if the companies submit a licence plate number.
"ICBC releasing vehicle ownership information to parking lot companies is consistent with one of the reasons for collecting [that information], namely to maintain the highway system," wrote spokesperson Adam Grossman.
"[The law] defines a highway to include every private place where the public is invited for the purpose of parking their vehicles."
B.C.'s privacy commissioner has ruled the practice is OK, with limitations. ICBC only gives names and addresses and the parking companies must agree to use the information only for bill collection.
Ying Yu and Alex Wong are also upset with Diamond. They both parked in lots where parking is free for customers of nearby restaurants and were issued tickets, even though they have proof they ate in the restaurants.
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"I don't want this kind of situation to happen [to other people] again and again," said Yu.
He has a dashboard camera on his vehicle. It shows him going into a Richmond noodle house, after parking in a Diamond-patrolled lot, where parking is supposed to be free for restaurant patrons.
The video shows a Diamond parking employee standing in front of Yu's car. Soon afterward, Yu walks out with a takeout bag from the restaurant.
"He said if you can bring the receipt of your dinner I can void your ticket," said Yu, who went back in and got a receipt. He said the attendant then refused to cancel his ticket, claiming the receipt was bogus.
"He said that's not your receipt," said Yu. "Then I was pissed off."
Yu later complained to Diamond, which voided his ticket. The company told Go Public it often does that when people complain.
"Our philosophy is to assume that a motorist making an appeal is acting in good faith and if it is a first notice that is being disputed, we tend to offer relief," wrote Poirier.
Alex Wong and several friends visited a Richmond McDonald's, where parking is supposed to be free for customers. When they came out, he said all their vehicles had tickets from Diamond.
"I have a receipt saying I ate there as a McDonald's patron, so they told me to send it to them so I sent it to them," said Wong. Diamond would only agree to reduce his ticket from $70 to $25, claiming its patroller saw him leave the lot.
"I told them I am not going to pay for something that I didn't even do at all," said Wong.
A sign at the McDonald's where Wong parked indicates there have been other complaints. It reads: "McDonald's is not responsible ... please direct your parking-related concerns to Diamond Parking."
Diamond said the terms of the contract are clear on all its signs. Where customer parking is free, people who park there cannot leave the property without their vehicle.
"Our lawyers assure us that our contracts with property owners allow us to enforce the posted rules on their private property," said Poirier.
Lawyer Phil Rankin said he believes many of these tickets, which look similar to municipal parking tickets, would not stand up to a legal challenge.
"Just because you send me a nice little blue ticket that looks like an official City of Vancouver ticket doesn't mean I have to rush off and pay it," said Rankin.
Like any breach of contract claim, Rankin said Diamond would have to prove in court that a driver violated the rules, which would be difficult and expensive.
"People don't ignore enough. I mean I receive these types of [questionable]
tickets and I ignore them. Basically I don't pay them. I ignore them. I don't think my credit rating has suffered," Rankin said.