What you can do about private parking tickets, clamping and towing depends on whether you park legally and obey any signs on display by a commercial parking operator or private landowner.

Parking safely

It’s better to park in a clearly identified parking facility than take a risk on a parking spot you’re not legally allowed to use. If there are signs, these establish the contract for parking, eg how long you can park, the fee you need to pay.

To prevent your vehicle being ticketed, towed or clamped:

  • Choose your parking spot carefully.
  • Read any signs near your parking space or at the point of payment.
  • Obey any conditions on signs — paying attention to time limits, fees, and what will happen if you break these conditions.
  • If you park on private land, even if there are no signs, your vehicle could be towed or clamped. You may need to pay.
By parking in a privately owned parking facility, you agree to the terms listed on its signs.

Different rules apply to parking on public roads

Parking on public roads is regulated by the Land Transport Act 1988 and local bylaws. Public roads include beaches, bridges, ferries and other places the public have access to.

On public land, the Police and parking wardens have the power to:

  • issue tickets for parking offences under transport legislation
  • prohibit or restrict parking on any road as long as they display certain signs; they may also fine and tow away vehicles that breach parking bylaws
  • have a vehicle towed if they believe its location on a road causes an obstruction, or if towing it is in the interests of road safety or the public interest; so they may tow your vehicle if you’ve parked on yellow lines, on a pedestrian crossing, over a fire hydrant, on the footpath or over a driveway or road entrance.

Visit the New Zealand Transport Agency’s website for more information(external link).

Most council websites have information about parking offences and local parking policies, including fees. If you have a dispute about any public parking tickets or enforcement actions, you should contact the relevant council or agency.

If your vehicle has been clamped or towed:

  • Try to stay calm. You may need to pay to have your vehicle released on the spot, but it’s possible you can recover some of your money later. You may also be able to negotiate a reduced fee to have your vehicle released, or pay part of the release fee and get an invoice for the outstanding amount.
  • Don’t do anything to damage a wheel clamp – you could be committing a crime and may have to pay for any damage you cause.
  • Take pictures or make note of any unclear or obscured signs, or boundary lines that have worn away.
  • Ask if the person who clamped or towed your vehicle has authority to do so. Only an agent of the landowner or business, eg an employee or the owner themselves, can lawfully have a vehicle clamped or towed.
  • Ask for contact details of the agency responsible for clamping or towing your vehicle.
  • Ask for a receipt if you pay a fee to have your vehicle released.

If your vehicle has been ticketed:

  • You may need to pay the ticket. . If the ticket is unjustified or unauthorised, or if the fee is unreasonable, you can complain to the land owner, tenant or the parking enforcement firm and refuse to pay it, or offer to only pay a reasonable amount.
  • If you intend to challenge the ticket, take pictures or make note of any unclear or obscured signs, or boundary lines that have worn away.

Two perspectives on wheel clamping

Your rights

A person who pays for their vehicle to be released from a clamp or towing facility has the right to seek a part or full refund, or in some cases, compensation, when:

  • You were misled by signage.
  • The ticketing, clamping or towing was unjustified or unauthorised.
  • Enforcement fees are unreasonable.

Rights of the landowner or enforcer

Landowners, lease holders, and their employees, have the right to take action, like charging an infringement fee, or arranging for a vehicle to be clamped or towed, when:

  • You park on their land without permission. This is a form of trespassing, and landowners or leasers don’t need to have signs stating this.
  • Your parking goes against the terms you agreed to by using a facility with signs clearly stating what is included in the service, eg time limits, fees, action to be taken if you break this agreement.

A short stop after a long day ends in wheel clamping

Brent looked for a car park so he could pick up fish’n’chips on a Friday night. He pulled in to a parking lot outside a nearby convenience store. Brent saw a sign in front of the park he chose, but it was dark and he was in a rush. He didn’t read it. He planned to be quick, and thought he would be okay.

Brent picked up fish’n’chips for his family and returned to his car. When he saw his wheel had been clamped, he was angry. It had been a long week and he looked forward to getting home.
Brent read the sign in front of the park he had chosen. It said the park was for customers of the convenience store only, and anyone parking there for another purpose risked having their wheel clamped or their vehicle towed — with release fees to be paid at their own expense.

After a tense conversation with the owner of the store, Brent paid to have the clamp removed. He appealed to the owner for a discounted rate because the dim light around the car park’s sign meant he didn’t fully understand what he was risking by parking there. The owner’s agreement made Brent feel a bit better about his disappointing end to the week.

Small business tired of losing income and paying for other people’s car parking

Sia’s store was busy, like Friday nights always are. She was serving a line of customers when she saw someone pull in to one of her car parks, and then cross the street to the takeaways shop. Sia noticed two of her regular customers driving slowly through the parking lot, unable to find somewhere to stop so they could come in. She was annoyed because, while Friday nights are always busy, the shop had been very quiet lately — and she needed all the business she could get.

Sia called her security company to arrange a wheel clamp. People often used her car parks without buying anything in her shop, and the parks cost a lot to rent. She didn’t like having to call security, but she felt doubly bothered by losing potential income and paying for people who aren’t customers to park while they ran their errands.

The man whose wheel had been clamped was upset. Sia understood, but was upset too. He pointed out there aren’t any lights above the sign telling people what will happen if they park in the space, and said it was hard to read. Sia had been meaning to install a light, so she agreed to lower the release fee by $50.

The vehicle owner pushed for the whole fee to be waived, but Sia refused. She needed to cover the cost of the security call out, a portion of her car park rent, and revenue lost from not being able to serve her regular customers.

Understand enforcement and release fees

Knowing whether enforcement or fees are unjustified, unreasonable or unauthorised is not always simple. If you feel your vehicle was clamped, towed, or ticketed without good reason, you may need to present your own case for why you deserve a partial or full refund.

Unjustified: Enforcement or fees could be unjustified if your parking did not break any laws or contract terms.

Unreasonable: Fees could be unreasonable if they far outweigh the cost to the agent or landowner. Possible costs include applying and removing the clamp, and sometimes any loss of income caused by your parking, eg if you park in a space reserved for customers only or block access to or from a business.

Unauthorised: Enforcement or fees could be unauthorised if the person who arranged for your vehicle to be clamped or towed is not the owner of the land, the owner of the business, or an employee of either.

To question or appeal a fee

Sometimes you need to pay to have your vehicle released from clamping or towing — even if you think you parked lawfully. If you think a parking ticket or release fee is unjustified, unreasonable or unauthorised, steps you can take include:

  • Contact the responsible agency. For parking tickets, information about how to make a complaint or challenge the fee will be on the back of the ticket.
  • You can try to negotiate with the agency for a reduced fee or partial refund if you think the fee paid was unreasonable.
  • You can request a refund of any infringement fee if you use a parking facility but there are no clear signs about towing or clamping, because this may be misleading under the Fair Trading Act.
  • You can contact the Disputes Tribunal if you can’t reach an agreement with the agency that ticketed, clamped or towed your vehicle, but you think you parked lawfully, or the fee was unreasonable or unauthorised.

What the tribunal can help with — Disputes Tribunal

Report misleading behaviour — The Commerce Commission