Basics of parking law
This page is about parking law and private land: when you can and cannot lawfully park on private land and what are the consequences. “Private land” includes private roads and private car parks. It doesn’t include public roads; nor does it include car parks run by public bodies: in these cases the position is different because public bodies have special legal powers which they can use to control parking. We use “car” for the sake of simplicity, to include other types of vehicle and indeed trailers.
Permission for someone to park on land means that according to parking law they are acting lawfully when they do so, rather than trespassing. Permission can be, but does not have to be, given as part of a contract (which would usually involve payment). There are no special legal requirements for giving someone permission to park on land: it can be done by word of mouth. However a written agreement may well be wise if the parking is going to be for more than just one brief occasion. Writing can make clear for example that:
• The parking is to be in a particular spot, and/or for a particular time.
• The permission applies only to a particular person and/or a particular car
• The landowner can end permission whenever they wish.
• The landlowner is not responsible for the car while it is parked, or for any accidents involving the car.
Car parks and parking law
Privately run car parks, usually operated by large companies, work on the basis of a contract. The contract will contain numerous terms and conditions, usually including payment. Typically there will be a notice at the entrance, alerting drivers to the fact that by entering the car park they are deemed to agree to the terms and conditions. (Whether or not drivers have stopped to read the terms conditions is irrelevant.) A Supreme Court case in 2015, the ParkingEye case, established that as a matter of parking law a parking company can impose a charge (in this case £85) for breach of its terms and conditions which exceeds any actual loss it has suffered. The charge was found to be legitimate, because the company needed income in order to run the scheme, which provided free parking for a limited time.
Permanent parking rights
Deeds Parking law allows a permanent right to park to be granted by deed: one landowner can grant to a (nearby) landowner, by means of a deed, a right to park on her land. The right is then permanent, and will apply to the later owners of the two pieces of land, unless they decide to change or cancel it. The right is a right in the nature of land —in legal language an “easement”. The right will normally be shown in the Land Register entry for the land subject to the right to park, and can be shown on the entry for the land which has the benefit of the right.
Prescription A right to park can be created by “prescription”, meaning use over a period of time — in effect, 20 years. The parking must be “as of right”. This legal phrase means “as though there was a right to park”, and it excludes use which takes place:
• By force, or under protest from the owner of the land
• Secretly, so that the landowner was unaware that it was going on.
• By permission from ther landowner
Parking “as of right” in different spots within a given area can give rise to a prescriptive rights to park. Parking in exactly the same spot can give rise to a prescriptive right to park in that precise spot, provided that it leaves the owner of the land with some use of it, albeit minimal. Once the 20 years are complete, there will be a permanent legal right, just as valid as a right granted by deed. However, while a deed may be clear that a right to park has been created, and may specify its scope, these things may be unclear, and in dispute when a prescriptive right to park is claimed. If so, the dispute can only be settled by the parties, or by legal proceedings.
In some circumstances, the nature of a right to park can be unclear. The lease of a flat may bring with it a right to park in a communal parking area; either in a particular parking spot, or wherever a spot is free. Depending upon how the right is expressed, it may be understood either as an easement, which goes with the lease of the flat, or — if related to a particular parking spot — as a lease of that parking spot.
Parking law and penalties
Private companies exist to penalise drivers who park unlawfully. They cannot now carry out wheelclamping, but “ticketing” is allowed: they put tickets on unlawfully parked cars, obtain the details of the registered owner from the DVLA, and levy a fine on him or her. Legislation has been introduced to regulate the parking control industry and to curb unfair practices. There is a proposal to reduce the maximum penalty charge from £100 to £50. A Code of Practice has been drafted, but has not yet been agreed and is therefore not yet in force. Consultation is in progress; the code should come into effect by 2024.
Help from Property Law Advice
For the sorts of issues which arise in practice, and on which we can offer advice, please see our Parking page. If you’d like a quick response, to see whether we can help, please see our Initial enquiry page.