• Graham Henrickson

A Fine Mentality Could Spell Disaster

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

This case study involves one of the largest and most successful developers and owners of residential apartments in Australia. The Company offers modern sophisticated living in highly sought-after locations. But those buying into this new urban lifestyle might find it a lonely existence given the treatment of visitors to their buildings.

I don’t know if my experience reflects the Company's standard practice or a local initiative by building management to deal with the demand for parking. Regardless, it suggests the need for proper supervision of the staff who manage the day-to-day operations of each location. A whiff of authority can be a dangerous thing and if behaviour of this kind goes unchecked, it could make their apartments a lonely place to live.

It was almost 11 pm on a weeknight. I was visiting a friend to collect a pair of glasses accidentally left behind. She lives in a stylish newly opened building in the precinct of Zetland in Sydney where they have adopted ‘Clover Moore’ street design. This means you stand a better chance of winning first division lotto than finding a park on the street. So, I drove to the gate of the underground car park and buzzed the apartment I was visiting.

As the gates opened, the voice from the intercom said to drive down the ramp and I would find the bays where visitors can park against the left-hand wall. I descended the ramp and found myself in a sea of disabled parking. Why every single bay was marked as ‘disabled’ was a mystery, but I could see all were numbered except those against the left wall where I’d been instructed to park. Instead of numbers these were marked with letters of the alphabet. Logic suggested the bays with numbers were assigned to units and those with a letter of the alphabet were for visitors. I sought the reassurance of signage that indicated visitor parking but there was none. Nor was there anything in the form of conditions of entry to the car park.

It took less than 15 minutes to collect my glasses. When I returned, I found a large red ‘You are parked ILLEGALLY’ sticker plastered on my passenger side window with super-adhesive glue. It stated that my number plate has been noted and a $550 fine may follow.

The truth is I had done nothing illegal - it was building management that had acted unlawfully. Not only was it unlawful to apply a sticker to my car, what was printed on the sticker was illegal as well. You see, only the government has the authority to issue 'fines' and if a private car park issues a fine or threatens to issue one – under the law this is misleading and unlawful conduct.

My written complaint was initially dismissed out of hand. When I wrote a second time, they replied saying all visitor parking must be pre-arranged and approved by on-site management and residents must use their Portal System to do so. On-site security was contactable on an after-hours number in relation to short term stops. However, the pre-arranged and approved conditions still applied.

So, what was I meant to do with that information? I was just visiting a friend in the building for 15 minutes not moving in. I was left wondering if anyone checks what employees are doing? - a complicated process like this is sure to fail and one that makes resident responsible but holds visitors accountable is doomed before it even starts. Common-sense should tell you this.

So, I sent a third email. This time to voice my disapproval at their response to date, to ask who was going to remove the illegal sticker and to suggest the terms and conditional for parking should be properly displayed. They wrote back to say there is notice in relation to visitor parking procedures that is clearly displayed in each lift that I would have seen when I entered the lift to visit the resident within the building. They went on to say they could provide no further assistance with the matter and suggested I take it up with the resident I was visiting.

I found the notice in the lift – for what it is.

If you’re reading it then you have already parked your car and left the car park.

This is a notice for residents and not visitors.

The notice is at odds with what they had written and refers to overnight parking only.

Tempted as I was to write a fourth time, I realised it would be meaningless as the person I was communicating with just didn't get it. Without internal checks and balances what appears to some as a bright idea can result in disaster.

Addressing bad behaviour by the general public presents many challenges. But some organisations are so focused on stopping or catching people out that they fail to consider the implications of their actions. Worse still they use language that reflects unnecessary authority and force, forgetting they are communicating to current and possibly future customers.