Know your rights
Different laws apply depending on whether you park on:
- public land – roads and council parking
- private land – commercial car park buildings and shop car parks.
On roads and public land, the Police and parking wardens have the power to:
- issue infringement notices 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 (external link) website for more information. Local authorities may also issue a wide range of road bylaws.
The Transport (Towage Fees) Notice tells you the maximum amount you may be charged for parking offences and for having your car towed. Most council websites have information about parking offences and local parking policies, including fees.
Privately owned car parks
Industry Code of Practice
In December 2015, selected members of the parking industry published a Code of Practice for Parking Enforcement on Private Land. The Code sets out procedures for ensuring that the control of parking on private land is fair and undertaken professionally. It also provides for processes to resolve disputes.
While the Code is voluntary, the Disputes Tribunal may take it into account when considering parking-related disputes that involve a signatory to the Code. You can read the code here [PDF, 3.2 MB].
Signage is your parking contract
You may be trespassing if you park your car in a private car park without paying, in a car park which is only for shoppers, or if you have overstayed in a paid car park.
Any signs or information given to you by the operator before you park become part of your contract with the car park owner. Signs must be clear and accurate, and obvious. By parking in the car park you are agreeing to the terms of the contract written on the sign.
If you have paid for parking then the car park operator can include in the contract the right to tow, clamp or charge a fee. If you overstay, then under contract law a car park operator can only claim for the actual and reasonable costs they incurred. Reasonable costs may be:
- Tow costs: similar to the cost of towing a car a similar distance, storing it, and having someone present to release it
- Parking fees: similar to what you would have paid for the time you overstayed plus administrative costs in issuing tickets and recovering fines.
If there are no clear signs about towing or clamping, you may be able to dispute payment of any infringement notice and tow or release fee by arguing this is misleading under the Fair Trading Act.
The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) guarantee for services applies to parking policies for paid parks. This means policies must be implemented using ‘reasonable skill and care’. You have the right to clear instructions about operating hours, fees and payment, reserved and unreserved parking and consequences of breaching conditions. The policies must be enforced using reasonable skill and care.
Tow truck services
Tow truck operators have to pay for any reasonably foreseeable damage to your car if their service is faulty, under the Consumer Guarantees Act, eg such as towing fees, storage costs, and getting to the tow yard. But they may limit their liability for loss as a carrier in their terms and conditions, under the Carriage of Goods Act. If a vehicle recovery service unlawfully tows or clamps your car, and intends to hold it until they are paid release fees, they may be liable for unjustified holding of your car under ‘torts of conversion and detinue’.
Land Transport Rule 81001
This rule says that tow truck operators must take ‘all reasonable precautions’ to prevent loss from or damage to any vehicle being towed. If they do not comply with this section they can be fined by the Police.
Private carparks for shoppers
If you parked in a car park reserved for customers only, you only have to pay for the damage or loss that you caused to the landowner, ie legitimate shoppers may not have been able to find a car park and this may have caused the shops to lose business.
Private owners may also rely on an old common law doctrine known as ‘distress damage feasant’ to seize or clamp your car until you pay for damages. The law is still uncertain on this in New Zealand. The landowner must prove:
- the vehicle must have caused the landowner to suffer some actual damage
- any steps taken must be justifiable and reasonable given the nature and degree of the trespass
- the vehicle owner can’t be present at any time while the vehicle is being immobilised or towed because there is a risk of confrontation which can lead to a breach of the peace.