The BC Supreme Court has ruled that the University of British Columbia does not have the authority to impose and collect fines for parking offences. As a result, UBC was ordered to reimburse members of this class action suit parking fines improperly collected over a six year period.
The plaintiffs challenged the validity of UBC’s parking regulations on the grounds that they were outside the University’s delegated legislative authority under the University Act. The plaintiffs acknowledged that UBC could restrict and charge fees for parking on campus. At trial, UBC conceded that it lacked legislative authority to create offences or penalties relating to parking.
The Court considered whether UBC’s rights as a private landowner conferred the power to impound and hold vehicles causing actual damage at the time of seizure (e.g., cars impeding traffic, occupying a reserved or handicap space without authority, parking in contravention of a parking sign or in a prohibited area). The Court concluded that UBC’s common law proprietary rights permitted such seizure. Once UBC has properly impounded a vehicle causing such damage, it is entitled to charge a reasonable fee for towing and storage and may hold the vehicle until it receives payment.
However, UBC does not have the power to tow a vehicle that is otherwise lawfully parked because of a past offence. Nor can it refuse to release a car that has been lawfully impounded until other outstanding fines are paid, or impose or collect parking fines.
This decision clarifies that the rights of an institution governed by the University Act in relation to parking are limited to setting parking fees and regulating where cars can park. A university wishing to enforce parking rules may rely only on its rights as a private property owner, that is, the right to tow and impound vehicles causing actual damage, and the right to recover reasonable costs incurred in towing and impounding such vehicles.
UBC recently obtained a stay of the Supreme Court’s order pending the determination of its appeal to the BC Court of Appeal.