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Drivers hit with private-parking lot tickets may be due refund

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Updated: November 30, 2012 6:16AM



Patti Piasecki found a yellow parking notice on her driver’s side window weeks ago at the River North parking lot she’s parked in for more than a year.

It wasn’t the signature orange and white City of Chicago parking ticket envelope that instills fear, or anger, in most. Instead, it contained a detailed ticket issued by the privately owned lot, listing her license plate and a fine. The reason: The automated payment machine that prints out a receipt to place on the inside dash wasn’t working that day.

“I didn’t pay because I couldn’t…the amount was something strange but I went online and paid it,” said Piasecki, a designer for Kohler. “I was really annoyed because it should have been $10 for the day and I was ultimately charged $30.”

Still, Piasecki paid the fine online, as did dozens of other drivers.

The city of Chicago, however, says she didn’t have to — and she could be getting some money back.

The city is now investigating dozens of parking lots in Chicago that may be slapping fines on car owners without warning them with posted signs.

Investigators from the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection fanned out to the lots beginning Oct. 12, to see if the lots are hitting drivers with bogus tickets.

The city launched the investigation of 52 lots managed by New York-based ABM Industries after the Sun-Times inquired and provided scans of some of the tickets.

The investigation is ongoing, but so far, city inspectors have looked at 41 of ABM’s lots and found multiple tickets at two sites. Just one of the locations had posted signs revealing reasons tickets could be issued.

The inspector at the River North lot at 550 W. Kinzie took photographs and found no posted or available information for customers concerning parking violations on the lot, department spokeswoman Jennifer Lipford said.

“We identified 52 parking lots in the city and will inspect each location, take photos and check for compliance with all city laws,” Lipford said.

The investigation isn’t over. The city on Friday subpoenaed ABM’s records regarding operating practices related to “tickets.” With that information, the city could force the company to pay compensation to people who have paid the tickets. ABM may also be ticketed by the city for deceptive practices for each ticket issued, Lipford said. The company has 30 days to provide the city with records.

The sticking point is the company cannot issue parking tickets without properly posting its regulations.

“What inspectors are finding, or what they’re looking to find is do the tickets that are issued have any sort of disclosures, any indication of rules and regulations, because when you pay for the parking, you’re in a contract with them,” Lipford said. “But if there is nowhere on the contract that you’re subject to this charge and this charge if you don’t do this and that, that’s obviously hidden charges. That’s what our investigators are looking for.”

The only mention of regulations is listed on the back of the receipt: “This ticket permits you to park in accordance with the regulations.” Yet no regulations are posted.

One man who didn’t want to be named said he paid $50 for a $13 day fare: “I just figured I had done something wrong and I owed it,” he said.

A ticket found on the gravel lot was issued for “blocking vehicles” and listed a $75 fine but offered a $25 discount for paying within 14 days. Drivers leaving the Kinzie Street lot Friday morning spoke to the Sun-Times about being issued tickets for various reasons: broken machine, blocking vehicles, expired tickets, and no payment.

ABM manages the Kinzie lot, but the lot is owned by a limited liability company partially owned by a Realtor who now lives in Florida. Reached by phone on Friday, Arnold Weinberg says he doesn’t get involved in the lot’s operations: “They write me a check on rent once a month. I don’t know what that ticketing is all about.”

Still, he said he understands why ABM may ticket for no payment. But he agreed drivers should be paying for the exact amount and no more.

“If they pay the $13 daily fare, that should be the end of it,” Weinberg said. “That’s wrong to charge because the machine isn’t working. It’s not your responsibility to pay more. That should be ABM’s responsibility.”

River North architect Chris Payne said he’d also been issued a ticket when the automated machine was down. He said the company recently switched from a cash and credit option to just credit, and he’s noticed a change in communication.

“Back then, they did used to answer the phone and they were more responsive. But I have no idea who answers the phone or where the call goes to,” Payne said. “They’re not picking up anymore.”

Not everyone pays the ticket. Several envelopes were found strewn around the lot and nearby viaducts where people also park.

The tickets read “System Parking” and drivers are told to pay the fine at parkingnotice.com. But the site warns, “You may be unhappy that you have received a parking notice and are thinking about venting to either of the above links. PLEASE DON’T. We are just the developers of this software and will be unable to assist you. Any e-mails received that are not of a technical support or sales nature will be ignored.”

No one at the number listed on an ABM sign at the lot answered the phone Friday afternoon. And ABM did not respond to calls for comment on the violations or the subpoena.

The publicly traded company offers management services in the United States and in more than 20 international locations. The company says it takes in more than $4 billion in revenue and has 10,000 employees.



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