Parking Enforcement: Civil Penalties, Infractions and Wheel Locks

The contents of an envelope tucked under the windshield wiper of your car parked on a city street doesn’t seem as ominous as a citation hand-delivered through your driver’s side window by a law enforcement officer illuminated by the flashing blue lights of her police vehicle. But both may land you in district criminal court.

That’s because, like the violation of many of the motor vehicle laws set forth in Chapter 20, the violation of a local government ordinance regulating parking is an infraction, punishable by a penalty of not more than $50, unless the local government’s parking ordinance provides otherwise. G.S. 14-4(b).

Like citations for other infractions, which must be personally served upon the person charged, citations for parking offenses must be delivered to the driver if that person is present when the citation is served. G.S. 15A-302(d). Frequently, however, the driver is not present. In such a case the citation is served—this time upon the registered owner of the vehicle rather than the driver—by affixing a copy of the citation to the vehicle in a conspicuous place. See id. If the person cited does not appear in court, then a criminal summons may issue. See G.S. 15A-303.

In the prosecution of a person for violation of a parking ordinance, the State may rely upon G.S. 20-162.1, which provides that it is prima facie evidence that the vehicle was parked and left by the person or entity in whose name the vehicle is registered with North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles. When a person is found responsible for an infraction based on this prima facie rule, however, the maximum penalty decreases and may not be more than $5. See State v. Rumfelt, 241 N.C. 375 (1955). The cumulative payment will not, however, be de minimis as court costs also must be assessed upon a finding of responsibility. G.S. 7A-304.

But hold on. Who among you has received a parking ticket deposited on your windshield, penalizing you, as the registered owner of the vehicle, and requiring payment of more than $5 to the police department, the clerk at city hall, or some other agency of the local government? Was the local government that ticketed you violating the law or otherwise pulling the wool over your eyes? No.

Parking violations that are infractions also may be enforced through imposition of a civil penalty recoverable by civil suit. See G.S. 153A-123(c), (f) (providing methods for enforcing county ordinances); G.S. 160A-175 (c), (f) (providing methods for enforcing city ordinances). Thus, rather than serving a citation that requires a person’s appearance in district court, a city may instead deposit a parking ticket upon a car that requires payment of a penalty in an amount that is not proscribed by the provisions of G.S. 14-4 or G.S. 20-162.1.

Indeed, many cities forego the infraction enforcement route all together by decriminalizing their parking ordinances pursuant to G.S. 160A-175(b). If parking violations are not violations of state penal law, money collected for unlawful parking may be retained by the city rather than being remitted to the county for the use of the public schools under the fines and forfeitures clause of Article IX, section 7 of the North Carolina Constitution. Cf. Cauble v. City of Asheville, 301 N.C. 340 (1980) (holding that clear proceeds of sums paid to the City of Asheville for violations of its overtime parking ordinance were owed to Buncombe County for the maintenance of its public schools because violation of the parking laws also was a breach of the State’s penal law pursuant to G.S. 14-4).

A handful of cities also are authorized to place immobilizing wheel locks on vehicles to enforce payment of parking tickets. S.L. 1995-381 authorizes the cities of Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem to adopt ordinances providing for the use of wheel locks on illegally parked vehicles for which there are three or more outstanding, unpaid, and overdue parking tickets for a period of ninety days.

Parking for handicapped persons, in contrast, is regulated by G.S. 20-37.6 rather than by local ordinance. A violation of handicapped parking laws, including improper parking in a handicapped space, is an infraction that carries a penalty of at least $100 and up to $250. G.S. 20-37.6(e), (f). It is prima facie evidence in the prosecution of such a violation that the vehicle was parked and left in the space by its registered owner. G.S. 20-37.6(f). In addition, a law enforcement officer may cause a vehicle parked in violation of G.S. 20-37.6 to be towed. A person cited for illegal parking in a handicapped space may waive court appearance by pleading responsible and remitting $100 and court costs to the clerk of court. See Waiver Item B.3 of the Traffic Offense Waiver List.

14 thoughts on “Parking Enforcement: Civil Penalties, Infractions and Wheel Locks”

    • Yes and I have heard of many cases were people in Asheville were towed with time still on their meter This happened to me when I visted Asheville I called the police and took a picture of the meter it had 1 hour on it left on it I took it to the towing company and still was told I had to pay the fine and storage. what a scam I will never come back to Asheville I also filmed this to put on my vlog. warning people if they go to Asheville that they will get a towing charge because it is a scam they run.

  1. I’m not sure on which point you are asking for clarification. Perhaps you are referring to the sentence stating that “[i]f parking violations are not violations of state penal law, money collected for unlawful parking may be retained by the city rather than being remitted to the county for the use of the public schools under the fines and forfeitures clause of Article IX, section 7 of the North Carolina Constitution.” The city may retain the penalties collected for violations of state parking laws if the violations are capable of being enforced solely through civil means.

  2. Question regarding: “Parking for handicapped persons,… regulated by G.S. 20-37.6… is an infraction that carries a penalty of at least $100 and up to $250… In addition, a law enforcement officer may cause a vehicle parked in violation of G.S. 20-37.6 to be towed.”

    My question is: Is the towing charge distinct from the “penalty”? Specifically, my car was towed where it was posted as a $100 maximum penalty, yet there was no civil penalty, just a towing charge exceeding $100. There was no law enforcement officer involved (it was an apartment complex, and hence private property). So does the posted penalty even make sense, as other than a towing charge? Can I challenge the larger than $100 towing charge?

    • Just a guess but no you could not . Had you been cited by police you would have the fine AND had to pay the towing fee . You were lucky it was just a tow to pay for , and shame on you for parking in a disabled space .

    • Towing companies are allowed to charge their usual rates, or reasonable rates for the tow fee. Generally contracts for private lots are awarded to individual companies, and those companies use a set rate per car for that lot.

  3. Is there a state law/ordinance that forbids parking on a city street without a tag? According to the High Point police department, if a person owns a truck with no tag on it, and the VIN # of the truck belongs to the person who owns and lives in the house it is parked in front of, it is legal to park in front of that home. Others places I have lived will give you 48 hours to tag the vehicle, or it is towed away. Now they are telling me it is a State of NC law. It doesn’t make sense and should be deemed a safety violation.

  4. is it against the law to use a handicap placard issued in someone else’s name to park in a handicap parking space if the issued owner of the placard is not with you? say if you go to work and you just use it to park in a handicap space.

    • Since the placard is issued to the disabled person and not to the vehicle I would say that it is not permitted for another driver to use it for parking in a disabled spot . It defeats the intent of the disabled parking permit when non disabled people take advantage of the placard to park in a designated parking place . But it is a moral issue as well ; why should a truly disabled person be unable to find a place to park when selfish and lazy people want the convenience of a closer spot ?

    • It is a violation, yes. The placard is only good for the person for whom it was issued. If someone else uses it the state can invalidate the parking permit, which would cause the truly disabled person to not be eligible for a replacement placard. Additionally, the person found to be using it improperly is subject to any penalties related to illegal parking.

  5. Under North Carolina law, can a private organization that is not an agency of a city or a county issue tickets and levy fines to the owner of a vehicle parked in an unmarked parking space in a parking lot serving several different businesses and organizations, including the private organization that issued the ticket and levied the fine?

  6. We have a neighbor in our small townhome community that parks his sports car in the handicapped parking space in front of our pool (pool is closed October 1 thru May 1)and then walks with out a break in his stride more than a quarter of a mile up a hill to his townhome. Parking is tight in our community and we have designated areas for overflow parking. To get around this he got a handicapped tag and has been parking leaving his car there for days on end. Is there anything we can do about it? When the pool opens people who need the handicapped space will be out of luck thanks to this jerk.

  7. I have a question about fire lane parking.

    Obviously it is illegal to park in a fire lane, but what are residents supposed to do when your apartment and neighboring apartments are located directly in front one?
    My girlfriend lives in an apartment in downtown Asheville, NC and has zero legal parking on her street, just sidewalk, fire lanes and loading zones. For parking we leave our vehicles anywhere we can find a garage or metered spot downtown.
    Now, what are we supposed to do in situations where we need to move furniture in or out of the apartment, or even unload lots of groceries? Walk luggage, furniture and groceries potentially several city blocks from where the vehicle is legally parked, or temporarily station the vehicle in front of the apartment do what we need to do and then immediately relocate the vehicle?

    I ran into this dilemma last Friday, March 18th. I live in New Jersey and was visiting my girlfriend in Asheville for a couple weeks. That Friday evening was my last day in town. Around 4:30pm I went and got my truck and pulled it in front of her apartment to load up my several heavy luggage bags and gifts for back home. I got out of my truck, walked inside, and within 60 seconds of returning to my vehicle with luggage a fire marshal was parked behind my truck and standing taking pictures of my license plate with her phone. I went over and told her that I had literally only been there for 1 minute, and only needed two minutes more to put my bags inside, and then I will move my vehicle. I asked if there was an emergency and if it was alright to continue loading, but regardless what I said her only response to every question was that, “you can’t park in a fire lane.”
    I was very aware of this but there didn’t seem to be any reasoning with her. I finished packing my bags while she stood there and watched from the sidewalk and her vehicle. After a total of 3 minutes my truck was packed and I moved it to the parking lot of a bar in the adjacent block. She watched me move my vehicle from out of the fire lane and walk back into the apartment. She was standing out front the whole time, and said nothing to me. Five minutes later I said my goodbyes to my girlfriend and walked over to the bar parking lot where my truck was parked to make the long drive home.
    To my surprise there was a $50 citation on my windshield for parking in a fire lane.
    So, that means after I moved my truck from the fire lane to the legal parking lot and went inside she walked over and put the citation on my windshield.

    I’d like to note that I have several friends in the Asheville Police and Fire Department and have the upmost respect for them, but was what she did legal? Can she issue me a citation while I’m standing next to my vehicle? Can she then put that citation on my vehicle once it is moved and legally parked, not in a fire lane?
    Furthermore, what are residents supposed to do if they live in situations like this? How are they supposed to move furniture, or groceries or whatever with zero leniency?
    I was literally about to hit the road for my 10 hour drive home. I was next to my vehicle essentially the whole time right out front of the apartment, the doors were open, it was not unattended, and there was no emergency.

    I would greatly appreciate any insight to this matter and any advice on how to deal with it.

    Thank you.

  8. My car got towed at my apartment complex for parking In A visitors spot and I have a parking pass I never received a document saying we couldn’t park in visitors being that I get off late I always have to park there I just wanted to know should I go ahead a proceed court actions to this matter ?


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