Chicago parking ticket problems
January 16, 2014 10:13 AM   Subscribe

A young neighbor is in trouble with the City of Chicago over parking tickets. How deep is the hole and how should he proceed to climb out?

Last summer, 18yo Bo graduated from high school and got his first job, which required driving his own vehicle to job sites around the city. In his first few days of working, he made a poor decision and parked illegally rather than be late reporting to the job. He received two parking tickets that week. Not having enough cash to pay them, he asked his retired father for help. Dad agreed to take care of the tickets with the stipulation that Bo repay him from his first paycheck. Bo did. He says he never got another ticket.

A few months later, Bo and Dad moved to this state -- still in the Midwest, but not a border state to Illinois. Both changed their respective drivers licenses, vehicle registrations and plates to the new state without problems. I've since learned that Dad did not fill out a USPS forwarding order for himself and Bo, likely because he hoped to ditch a couple of troublesome collection agents. (Dad is not a bad guy, but is not a sterling example of financial responsibility.)

Last night, Bo got a call from a friend in Chicago. Long story short, friend had seen a city notice addressed to Bo at his old address. According to friend, the City of Chicago now wants more than $800 for outstanding parking tickets, the fine is continuing to grow every month, collection efforts are underway, and a warrant has been issued. Bo is panicked. $800 represents more than a month's wages at his new, part-time minimum wage job. It also represents a substantial percentage of his father's monthly pension. The city notice, friend reports, was marked "not at this address" and returned to sender.

Assume Dad will be of little help. Neither Bo nor Dad has any paperwork related to these tickets -- no copies, no receipts for payment. Unfortunately, knowing Dad, the possibility exists that he did not pay the tickets at all. As a former city worker, he may have simply dropped them off with "The Alderman," fully expecting them to be expunged. Such favors were rather common in Chicago during his working years. But they were also "not talked about," so he's unlikely to admit it if that's what he did.

I know the first step should be to determine whether the outstanding parking tickets are valid and are indeed the tickets Bo remembers. I've located this site so I'll be able to help him with that. Assuming they are valid, the site indicates that even a payment plan will require a minimum payment of $500 immediately, which is definitely out of Bo's reach. Does anyone have any experience that suggests possible leniency in this policy if good faith effort to repay is shown?

Any other advice? Should Bo file an individual change of address so he doesn't miss other important correspondence? Because he is so young and has always lived with his father, Bo's credit record is likely to be virtually non-existent -- should he be concerned about that relative to this problem? Is a Chicago warrant for parking tickets likely to be able to reach out-of-state to cause him difficulty renewing his plates or drivers license ... or worse, expose him to risk of arrest or other serious consequences?

Anecdata welcome. This is a good kid and the unfairness of this situation is almost heartbreaking. But because Dad will probably suggest that Bo simply ignore the problem and expect it to go away, I'd like to offer more realistic and responsible counsel.
posted by peakcomm to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Find out what the tickets are for. If they're for the two tickets he recieved, then he can contact the court and see if an arrangement can be made. He may be able to reduce the amount, he may be able to set up a payment plan. He can explain that he's out of state, and that he can afford very little. Getting information and talking to people will NEVER be the wrong answer.

If it turns out that the tickets were received after the move, Bo can provide proof that he's been living and working out of state, and the court should be able to relieve him of responsibility.

If Dad required that Bo repay him, if I were Bo, I'd ask for that money to start paying down these tickets, that would be a really shitty thing to do to one's child.

It's all conjecture right now, based on a "friend" who would open a piece of mail not addressed to him.

Never panic before understanding what the situation is. Even then, don't panic.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:32 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

First off, yes, Bo should file a change of address. That is what adults do when they move so that they don't miss very important mail that comes to their address. AND SO THEY DON'T PISS OFF THE NEXT TENANT WITH THE INCESSANT MAIL THEY'RE STILL GETTING 2 YEARS LATER, NOT THAT I'M BITTER It is a very, very easy process through the USPS and costs $1 to do online.

I came in to recommend you go to the city's department of revenue page, which I see you've already found. Good. Look up those tickets (probably most effectively by tag number) and see what's there.

Believe it or not, I have found the Chicago dept of revenue fairly reasonable to deal with when it comes to parking tickets. This city parking tickets the bejeezus out of its populace, but the secret magic is that you can successfully contest the vast majority of parking tickets you receive.

I have never gotten to the point of a ticket going to collections, so Bo's MMV with this, but he needs to write a letter (an actual, honest to god on physical paper and everything) to the city explaining exactly what happened with these tickets. Use good grammar and spelling, BE NICE, explain everything as plainly as possible, and simply state that he wants to make this right, but that the amount is impossible for him to pay. He should say that he is completely happy to pay for the original balance of the tickets (which I assume is going to be probably $65 each or so) and include a check for that amount. He also needs to explain that he changed addresses but did not set up mail forwarding, and had missed the correspondence from the city completely unintentionally.

You and Bo need to get over the "unfairness" of the situation. A lot (I'd posit most) of the parking tickets given out in this city are bogus, but it sounds like he actually did park illegally in this instance. That's a bummer and it sucks, but he did it. The collection actions and exorbitant price tag are the penalty of not taking care of it when it happened. I'm not trying to be mean, but this is a good lesson in learning that you can't ignore these things.

Next time tell him to contest his tickets IMMEDIATELY on his own and not rely on someone else to take care of business for him. He'll be better off for it.

tl;dr I am pretty certain that this can be solved without paying $800, but it's going to take some writing and a bit of effort to do it.

Let me know if you want any help with the actual letter. I've written so many of them that me and the dept of revenue are basically pen pals.
posted by phunniemee at 10:32 AM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't know the specifics of this particular case, but from what I've been able to discern, it's a pretty common tactic to raise the penalty on unpaid tickets to exorbitant rates simply to get an individual to pay the original fee. It will be worth looking into, but it might be that the higher cost is designed to get his attention (which seems to have worked), such that the preference is to pay the original fee rather than the increased rate.

This happened to me once, where I mailed a small fee late on a burnt out headlight, and the check was returned to me with a new notice saying that I needed to now pay $700+ dollars or appear in court to discuss. I appeared in court, and the judge said, "Wait, you are here for a headlight?" I explained that I missed the payment date, and it was immediately reduced to the original ticket cost.

I don't know if that is what is going on here, but that number is so big that it makes me wonder. At the very least, I wouldn't rule this out as a possibility as he investigates, which may be somewhat less distressing for him.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:08 AM on January 16, 2014

When this happened to a relative of mine -- multiple parking tickets + huge fine + warrants -- she was able to slow down the process by appearing before a judge and explaining that she hadn't received the notices and that she was broke. I'm about 90% sure that she still had to pay the original ticket + a percentage of the fines, but they gave her some extended deadlines and removed the warrant. Still took a good long time to pay off, though.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:14 AM on January 16, 2014

He should contest the tickets stating that he didn't get proper service. MeMail me.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:20 PM on January 16, 2014

Because he is so young and has always lived with his father, Bo's credit record is likely to be virtually non-existent -- should he be concerned about that relative to this problem?

I don't have any advice on the ticket/collections situation, but, I think Bo should definitely find out what is on his credit report (for free here?). The problem of parents taking on debt in their children's names and wrecking the kids' credit has come up often on AskMe. You say that Bo's Dad is not a bad guy, so maybe he would draw the line at doing something so damaging as maxing out a credit card in Bo's name, but it seems like a possibility if he's already in the hole enough to have to skip town to avoid his creditors.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:11 PM on January 16, 2014

The tickets are now resolved. Turns out the outstanding tickets belonged not to young Bo, but to Dad (aka Bo Sr.) Friend evidently missed the differing middle initial. A bit of discussion with Dept of Revenue rolled back some of the fees and Bo dropped the check in the mail for his dad today.

Many thanks for all the advice here. I've recommended to Bo that he file a change of address and offered to show him how to check his credit record.
posted by peakcomm at 10:59 AM on January 17, 2014

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