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You may be towed, but only if there is proper signage

By By Richard Alderman
Sept. 1, 2012 at 4:01 a.m.


Does a store have the right to limit who may park in its lot? Isn't this public property? Can I be towed for parking in the lot of one store and shopping somewhere else?

First, as a general rule, a parking lot is not public property. Nearly all parking lots, or parking facilities as the law refers to them, are private property, and the owner of the facility may limit who may park in the parking facility. In fact, you should assume that parking facilities are built for customers of the owner. Whether you may be towed, however, is a different question.

Although a store or shopping area may limit who can use its parking facility, it must follow state law to have the right to tow violators. Under state law, a parking facility must place the proper signs before it may tow a car. Among other things, the signs must be conspicuously visible to and facing the driver who enters the lot; and, located at each entrance to the lot.

The signs must also contain the international symbol for towing vehicles; describe who may and who may not park; and, contain a current phone number that is answered 24 hours a day to enable the owner to locate the car. If the parking facility has the proper signage, and you park where you shouldn't, you may be towed, and will owe a substantial fee to the towing company. The bottom line is that a parking lot owner may limit who is permitted to park in the lot; it may only tow wrongdoers, however, if there are proper signs.

My landlord fined me $25 for allowing my dog to poop in one of the common areas. Can I be fined? I thought only the city or state can impose a fine?

You are correct that generally, criminal penalties, or fines, are imposed by a government entity. But your landlord has the right to impose whatever fines or penalties are provided for in your lease.

If your lease says you will be fined $25 for allowing your dog to poop in the common areas, you may be fined and owe the money. On the other hand, if your lease is silent, and says nothing about penalties for such conduct, your landlord has no right to impose a fine.

I am the sole shareholder and president of a small corporation. I was told my business cannot appear in court or file a lawsuit without an attorney. My business is being sued for a small amount of money in small claims court. Do I have to hire an attorney to represent the business?

In most cases, a corporation may file a lawsuit or appear in court only through an attorney. The corporation is considered a legal entity, and if someone besides an attorney tried to represent the corporation, they would be acting as its attorney without a license.

In small claims court, however, any authorized agent, such as the president, may represent a corporation. The law recognizes that many claims in small claims court do not require the assistance of an attorney, and allows a corporate officer to represent the company.

How much notice is an employee entitled to before he is fired? I showed up for work this morning and was told the end of the week would be my last day. I thought I was entitled to a two week notice? This doesn't seem fair.

As a legal matter, you are not entitled to any prior notice. Unless you have an employment contract or union agreement that says otherwise, you may be fired with no prior notice. Your employer may not have treated you fairly, but from a legal standpoint, it had the right to do what it did.

Do you want to know more about your legal rights? Visit my web site, peopleslawyer.net

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at peopleslawyer.net.

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