Parking tickets may not be legal
Thousands of parking tickets issued by Hutt City Council may be invalid, and the money raked in by fines may have to be refunded.
The council has acknowledged there may be a problem, and its chief executive Tony Stallinger said "it's going to be a major inconvenience if that's the case".
A loophole in the council's bylaws has been uncovered by Al O'Connor, a legal researcher and master's student at Victoria University, who stumbled on the matter after he was ticketed for parking longer than two hours near his Seaview office.
"It's a newly created time-restricted area, and I took it on myself to check the lawfulness of it - and uncovered a massive problem."
Land transport regulations state that local authorities must pass a bylaw authorising the penalties for parking infringements.
Hutt City Council's bylaw provided for parking meters, coupon parking, resident parking and no-stopping areas, but it made no provision for time-restricted parking, he said.
As a result, "every ticket is just a bluff ".
"What it means is that none of the signs and none of the tickets are lawful, and they'll have to refund the tickets."
It is not known how many invalid tickets may have been issued.
Mr O'Connor believed the problem dated back to at least 2007, and that thousands of tickets had been issued unlawfully.
He urged people to come forward and reclaim any fines they had paid.
Other councils in the Wellington area had the necessary bylaws covering time-restricted parking, but Lower Hutt did not, he said.
"This is a sloppy bylaw and a sloppy mistake, and it's going to be an administrative nightmare to do an amnesty."
It illustrated the importance of always checking legal processes and "not just paying up because somebody's put a piece of paper under your windscreen wiper".
Mr Stallinger heard late last week that there might be a problem with the tickets, but had no further details.
"Clearly this is a legal issue. We're looking into it and taking further advice."
As to the prospect of the council having to refund years of unlawfully levied parking fines, Mr Stallinger said: "It's going to be a major inconvenience if that's the case".
Long-serving Hutt City councillor Margaret Cousins said the council's legal officer had sent out a note saying Mr O'Connor was correct, and there had been similar issues in the past.
"It looks like he's right, and we may have a problem."
One likely beneficiary of Mr O'Connor's legal discovery is paramedic student Steff Dewhurst, who vowed she would not pay a $12 ticket for parking in a P120 zone outside her Epuni home, near Hutt Hospital, on the night of last month's big storm.
She said she parked her car on the road that night because she was worried it could be crushed by trees falling on her property.
Miss Dewhurst said council parking manager Barry Rippon refused her request to let her off the ticket, and she was surprised to hear yesterday that the fine may be unlawful.
‘"I would have thought the council would have sorted this out if they were handing out tickets."
The Dominion Post