Parking Lots -- Uses and Abuses

I take a commuter train into the city for work. The train station has a parking lot – cost of parking is $4 per day. Nearby (less than a 1/4 mile away) there’s one of those big wholesale stores with a large parking lot.

When I get off the train in the evening, as I’m pulling out of the train station parking lot, I see a handful of people (5-10, usually) walking away from the train over to the wholesale store, where, presumably, they’ve parked for free. It feels like they’re doing something wrong here, although I’m not sure who actually is hurt or what their recourse will be.

It’s not the train station parking lot – they’re not parking there, and there’s no requirement that you need to park there in order to take the train.

In theory, the wholesale store could be hurt if the fact that they were parked there prevented an actual paying customer from coming into the store. But in practice, it is a big lot, and it is never close to being full (at least not that I’ve observed). It would be hard (in my opinion, IANAL) for the store to argue it had suffered any actual damages.

However, the store’s argument could be that while it is not a problem now, if everybody behaved this way, their lot would fill up and prevent customers from parking there, and so this behavior must be discouraged. Let’s say that’s the case – what recourses are available to the owners of the store? Can they legally have the car towed away without the car owner’s permission? Where would they have it towed to? At whose expense? Are they within their rights to tow ANY car out of their parking lot, or do they have to show some evidence of abuse?

I have seen signs in some parking lots (but not the one in question) that parking is for such-and-such customers only – if there are no such signs, can one infer that parking for non-customers is okay?

I guess what I’m really asking – am I being a good citizen or a chump for shelling out $20 per week for parking? Perhaps both.

Is this a question about the law? Otherwise maybe it should be in IMHO. Anyway, aside from displacing paying customers, there is wear and tear on the parking lot that requires maintenance. Most stores get wise to things like this and if they think it’s a problem they post signs to make it clear that parking is for customers only while in the store. That is very common near where I live where there are a lot of businesses near the DC Metro, which charges something like $4.75 to park in its lots. It is private property and they could have you towed for just about any reason they want (IANAL). Even some residential neighborhoods near Metro stations have gotten sick of it and now require parking permits during business hours to prohibit commuters.

The opinion part of this is that if the store has no signs posted, they are probably aware of the situation and tolerate it because it’s only a few cars. If you start parking there I’m sure they wouldn’t suddenly have you ticketed or towed without notice. And you have no obligation to subsidize the train station by paying parking there. Someday the party may be over but I would say that walking 1/2 mile a day is probably worth the $1000 a year you would save.

Yeah, sorry, the question was kind of rambling. Ultimately I was wondering what legal rights a store owner has regarding the use of its parking lot. I was having a tough time imagining that it could have someone’s car towed away, regardless of whether there was any warning or cause, but it is private property.

Let me phrase it slightly differently. You’re a store owner, I’m a customer – by parking in your parking lot, am I essentially giving you the right to have my car removed?

Here’s a thread from a poster whose boyfriend’s car was towed from a store’s parking lot (although there were signs warning against parking by non-customers). So, yes, it’s possible for a car to be towed from a private lot.

Zoning codes in the United States often require far more parking for a use (with retail, generally four to six spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space minimum) than what is anticipated to be used. (There’s a discussion on the origins of excessive parking requirements here.) A typical old-school zoning code may require 600 to 900 spaces for a 150,000 square foot Costco, even though they’ll never even come close to filling the parking lot, even during a Black Friday in a boom year.

Anyhow, even though there’s all those parking spaces, it’s still private property. The property owner is well within their right to tow cars parked there if they’re not patronizing a business on the site.

Occasionally, portions of such large parking lots near commuter rail and transit stations will be leased by the transit authority for park-and-ride purposes. However, because it might take away from the minimum required parking spaces for a business, it may require a zoning variance. Some zoning codes allow for shared parking for adjacent uses with different peak customer hours (for example, a church and movie theater).

Emphasis mine.

Is the property owner still within his/her right to tow cars parked there if they ARE patronizing a business on the site? Granted, this would be a very stupid thing for the property owner to do, but is there a legal distinction made?

Thanks for the responses.

Well, certainly they could have someone towed if they were violating some sort of parking rules, like parking in a handicapped spot or blocking an entrance or a fire lane. (It is more likely they would attempt to locate the customer first.) But otherwise this would be kind of nuts, and probably would draw a lawsuit if they were able to actually get a car towed. IANAL.

Thanks. I’m probably making it way too complicated than it should be, but here’s what I’ve gleaned so far from the responses. If I’m a property owner, I can have a car towed for any reason. The person whose car I towed can then sue me, and in court I will have to convince a judge (or jury) that I had a legitimate reason for towing the car. But there is no codified list anywhere of “legitimate reasons” – the outcome will be at the judge’s discretion. Thus, If I say I had the car towed because the color bothered me, and the judge found that reasonable, the other guy would lose the case. Is this more or less accurate?

What is the case deciding? Who has to pay for the tow?

It’s going to depend on local laws, but I think generally, they have to have signs posted in order to have you towed from a publicly accessible lot.

IMHO, I think you’re being a chump, not a good citizen. But if you start parking there, keep an eye out for No Parking signs going up.