Alex Dupuis Potocki, who has been housebound on crutches for weeks, is $850 poorer after the city towed and impounded her parked truck because of an obscure bylaw she didn't even know existed.

The Hamilton woman was in a cast and stuck inside for the Christmas season, and for almost two weeks didn't even know her truck had been towed. All the while, impound fees kept piling up.

She could be forgiven for not knowing about the bylaw — which prohibits parking in one spot on any street in Hamilton for longer than 12 hours — because it isn't posted on any city streets, and isn't enforced unless someone complains.

"This really specifically sucks for me in this instance," Dupuis Potocki said, lamenting that she just had to pay more than her monthly rent to get her truck back.

Her problems started back on Dec. 7, when she was at a roller derby training event with the Hammer City Roller Girls.

The derby enthusiast was doing a drill where she had to stand on one leg on roller skates. She slipped and broke her leg, and has been in a cast ever since.

"Now all I do is stand on that one leg," she said.

'Everything is hard. I can't really get around in the snow.' - Alex Dupuis Potocki

For a week, her truck sat in the Centre on Barton parking lot in front of the abandoned Target building, where the group practices.

"I was worried that someone would break in or steal it," she said. She couldn't drive, so she asked a friend to drive it over and park it on Maplewood Avenue, near Gage Park, where she lives.

Alex Dupuis Potocki's street

There are no signs about the bylaw anywhere on Dupuis Potocki's street, or on any other streets in Hamilton. The city says there are notices posted at the city's entrances. (Adam Carter)

The friend assured her he'd found a "good spot" on her side of the street, near her apartment. She had to take his word for it though — snow and ice, coupled with a fall from her crutches, meant she was basically housebound for a couple of weeks. Since she works from home, that was manageable, she said.

"I wasn't leaving my apartment because it's icy, with my leg broken," she said. "Everything is hard. I can't really get around in the snow."

Truck towed, but notification comes almost 2 weeks later

She assumed the truck was fine, as she'd been parking it on her street for months without issue. Then, on Jan. 3, she got a letter from the city, advising her that it had been ticketed twice, issued a tow notice and then on Dec. 22 was towed. That was almost two weeks earlier.

"I had no idea. There's no posted restrictions in the section it was parked," Dupuis Potocki said.

In fact, there are no posted restrictions for this bylaw on any city street. Hamilton parking bylaw 01-218 prohibits any vehicle from parking for more than 12 hours on any and all city streets. It was approved by city council all the way back on Aug. 25, 1959.

Alex Dupuis Potocki

Dupuis Potocki broke her leg at a training session for the Hammer City Roller Girls. (Adam Carter/CBC)

City documents say the bylaw exists to "deal with problems which result from persons parking their vehicles on a public roadway in front of their own property or someone else's for days or weeks on end," and to ensure city workers can have space if needed for things like utility repairs or tree trimming.

So how are people supposed to know about it? City spokesperson Marie Fitzpatrick told CBC News that signs advising people about the bylaw are "posted at the entrances to the city."

"Signing every street in the city with this regulation is not feasible," she said in an email.

Dupuis Potocki says she didn't even know the bylaw existed. "I've never had any issues with parking," she said.

To top it off, the city says it doesn't even enforce the bylaw unless someone complains.

"Our office received a complaint about that specific vehicle," Fitzpatrick said. "We don't proactively investigate 12 hour violations in an area without a complaint, so without a prior complaint enforcement possibly would not have started."

Lot fees rising daily

Dupuis Potocki says the issue is compounded because the city took so long sending her notice that her vehicle had been towed.

"I think the letter should have been sent to me the same day or the next day," she said. "I understand the office was closed for Christmas, but I think if you can tow the truck, you can send the letter."

Alex Dupuis Potocki

Dupuis Potocki says she's hoping to get her cast off in the next couple of weeks. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Fitzpatrick says the letter was "generated" on Dec. 22, but added that "mail can take up to five business days to be delivered."

"Since the tow occurred just before the City offices' holiday shutdown, the letter was not received apparently until 12 days later," she said.

Each day that her truck was in the impound lot, Dupuis Potocki was incurring another $35 in fees. She says she just paid what she owed to get it out and stop her bill from rising.

"I'm going to try to dispute it, and hopefully get it reduced," she said.

She may be out of luck, though. Though she can retroactively contest tickets she received, there is no dispute process for the towing and release fees.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

Clarifications

  • This article was amended to make clear that tickets and a tow notice were issued prior to the vehicle being towed away.
    Jan 10, 2018 5:10 PM ET