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I got a ticket while parked at the shopping centre. I was going to buy groceries, but first I walked across the street to deposit a cheque at the bank. The trip to the bank took at most five minutes. What gives them the right to ticket me if I walk off their property while my car's parked there? — Elizabeth, Toronto

Remember when your parents used to say, "My house, my rules?"

Well, it's true in parking lots too.

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"A property owner is entitled to set the conditions to allow people to park on their property," says Anthony Fabrizi, Toronto manager of parking operations. "It could be anything from 'pay me $5 every 30 minutes' to 'small vehicles only on this side.'"

Property owners can set whatever rules they want — as long as they're not discriminatory, Fabrizi says.

"We wouldn't allow 'only green cars can park here,' or 'BMWs only,'" Fabrizi says. "But we'd allow 'no heavy trucks,' because they could damage the pavement."

There's no grace period, either — they can ticket and tow you once you break their rules, Fabrizi says.

"You have instances where the Blue Jays are playing and around the Rogers Centre there are all these factories and industrial lots where people try to park," he says. "What the private property companies will do is literally stand there with a tow truck and tow cars away immediately because the signs say 'zero tolerance.'"

But isn't that unfair? Not really, Fabrizi says. You don't have a right to park on somebody else's land.

"You could say: 'It's not fair that Shell charges me a dollar a litre more for gas,'" he says. "And their approach is: 'Don't buy our gas, then,'"

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Inquire within?

So, how do you know the rules? Well, they might be posted in detail on a sign — but they don't have to be, Fabrizi says.

"Generally, in the big commercial lots where you have to pay, the rules are listed," he says. "But otherwise the sign will just say that it's authorized parking only and that the owner has the right to ticket and tow vehicles."

The only time the property owner has to tell you the specific rules is if you ask.

"Nobody does this — but you'd have to go and knock on the guy's door and he'd tell you," he says.

There are three situations where you'll get a City of Toronto parking ticket on private property: if you're breaking their rules, if you're parked in a fire route or if you're parked in an accessible parking spot without a permit.

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"It's a $250 fine for the fire route and $450 for disabled parking," Fabrizi says.

In Ontario, the Highway Traffic Act doesn't apply on private property — but you can still be ticketed for these parking offences under city bylaws.

"You can't get a ticket for an illegal left hand turn in a parking lot," he says. "But you can get a parking ticket for parking in a disabled stall."

If you're breaking any rule set by the owner, it's a $30 fine.

"That covers every single type of offence — 'you can't park here at night,' 'you can't park on my grass.'" Fabrizi says.

If you think you didn't break any rules, you can dispute the ticket.

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In 2014, the city issued about 308,000 of those $30 tickets.

"We have an 82 per cent collection rate, so we brought in about $7.4 million," Fabrizi says. "All of that goes entirely to the city — it's against the law for property owners to get kickbacks."

Private property, city ticket

In Toronto, city tickets can be issued by police or by private companies licensed by the city.

"They're called municipal law enforcement officers — MLEOs" Fabrizi says. "They're trained and supervised by the police."

But private notices — yellow slips that look like city tickets but aren't — are banned in Toronto.

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So, in Toronto, you can get a city ticket while parked in a shopping centre, but you're not supposed to get a private notice.

One company that issues private notices, Parking Control Unit, has been charged with breaking the ban at least 75 times.

"I can't comment on the practices of Parking Control Unit because this is before the courts," Fabrizi says.

If you don't pay a city parking ticket, you can't renew your car's registration. But that's not true of notices from private companies. If you don't pay a private notice, companies say they can sic a collections agency on you. But that shouldn't affect your credit rating, Equifax Canada says.

"The unpaid parking notices may be given to a collection company to initiate collect activities, but the actual collection line does not report to Equifax," spokesman Tom Carroll says in an email. "Even if it is submitted to us, we will by-pass it and not post the collection."

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