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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Mar. 20, 200712:00 PM EST

Parking meter or private lot:

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Just like there’s no free lunch, there’s no free parking when it comes to leaving your vehicle in a space Downtown.

What many people may not understand is that as unpleasant as it is to find a citation from the City’s Parking Facilities and Enforcement Division under the windshield wiper of a car, that’s a relative “day at the beach” compared to what could happen when someone uses a space without paying at a private facility.

If someone chooses to park without paying at a metered space on the street, the penalty levied by the City is $15 and the ticket can be paid by writing a check and dropping it in the mail to the Tax Collector. If the fine isn’t paid within 30 days, it becomes delinquent and additional charges will be incurred. If someone has up to three citations and they all become delinquent, the next time they get a ticket from the City they will get something else – a bright yellow “boot” on one of the tires that immobilizes the vehicle. The boot won’t be removed until the Tax Collector receives payment of all the accrued fines plus an additional $50 boot removal fee.

According to Bob Carle, chief of the Parking Enforcement Division, they don’t have to immobilize very many cars. With an average of 5,000 parking citations issued each month, only about 50 vehicles get the boot from the City.

“By far, the vast majority of people just mail in the $15,” he said.

Parking without paying at a private lot can carry similar or even more stringent penalties, and the penalties may be enforced by the property owner. State statutes concerning landlord/tenant rights are clear on the ability of a property owner to “collect what is owed plus reasonable costs associated with the collection.”

Justin Moore is the property manager for Focus Parking Systems, the company that owns the parking lots at Ocean and Forsyth streets and at Adams and Newnan streets. He said while less than 5 percent of people who use the lots do so without paying the posted fees, there is a system in place to compel them to do so.

“I write the ticket, and then it’s out of my hands,” said Moore.

Focus turns the matter over to a subcontractor and if the $50 ticket isn’t paid within 60 days, an attorney researches ownership through the Department of Motor Vehicles and sends the vehicle’s owner a letter demanding payment. If the ticket is still not paid after a reasonable period, the subcontractor reports the owner to a collection agency.

“That could affect their credit,” said Moore.

He also said most people who are cited for parking without paying, remit the fine in a timely manner and he can remember only one time in the past five years that a car was booted at any of Focus’s lots in Jacksonville or Denver, Co. It’s also company policy to not call a tow truck unless it’s apparent the vehicle has been abandoned.

However, private lot owners could call for enforcement by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

While there is no state or local statute that deals specifically with parking on a privately-owned lot without paying the fee, in Jacksonville the Municipal Code addresses “unauthorized persons on parking lot.”

According to Sec. 614.142.1, “It shall be unlawful and an offense for any person to willfully enter or remain on any property which is used primarily as a parking lot for motor vehicles unless such person is authorized, licensed or invited; provided such property is prominently marked by a posted notice, which is easily seen from a distance of 50 feet, restricting use of or access to the parking lot.”

The code also provides for punishment upon conviction:

For a first offense, by a fine of not more than $25 or by imprisonment of not more than 10 days or by community service of not less than 50 hours; and for a second or subsequent offense, by a fine of not more than $500 or by imprisonment of not less than 15 days nor more than 90 days or by community service of not less than 500 hours.

“It’s private property. We own it. That’s why there are laws,” said Moore.

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