When is it illegal to park in a private car park?

We’ve all done it! Who hasn’t left the car in the supermarket car park and then quickly nipped across the road to run some errand or other? But parking in a private car park without authorisation can have serious financial consequences. Read more here.

When is it illegal to park in a private car park? ©-Thomas-Jansa-Fotolia

When is it illegal to park in a private car park? ©-Thomas-Jansa-Fotolia

Private car park

With town centre parking spaces scarce and expensive, it is tempting for would be shoppers to leave the car in the massive nearby supermarket car park and then nip into the town centre.

But such unauthorised parking can have consequences. If the supermarket catches you, you might be forced to pay a penalty fee or you might even have to cover the costs of your car being towed away and impounded.

Simply put, unauthorised parking on private property could end up being be more expensive than paying to leave your vehicle in the town centre multi-storey.

Parking tickets

Contrary to a widely-held belief, the operators of private car parks cannot issue tickets for parking violations. Parking tickets, and also warnings for that matter, are administrative measures and can only be issued by someone exercising a public function.

However, private car park operators often state in a contract that drivers must pay a contractual penalty if they park in the car park but do not use the corresponding business facilities.

Private parking signs

Many will argue that they did not sign a contract to use the private car park and are therefore not obliged to pay the penalty fee.

On the contrary, a contract is impliedly concluded with the car park operator through the fact that the operator’s standard terms and conditions are displayed on signs in the car park. A person who parks in the car park tacitly agrees to the terms and conditions.

For the standard terms and conditions to be effective, they must be clearly visible and the private parking sign must display the main relevant terms. It must clearly state how long the driver may park in the car park before action is taken and the level of fine which applies.

The terms cannot be unfair, and must contain provisions which can be reasonably expected.

If the standard terms and conditions are unfair or cannot reasonably be expected, they are automatically ineffective. A term which cannot reasonably be expected, for example, would be a contractual penalty amounting to ten times the usual parking fee.

Driver is liable

An important difference between unauthorised parking on private property and incorrectly parking in public car parks is the fact that the driver, and not the owner of the vehicle, is liable. This is because the contract is concluded between the car park operator and the driver. Contracts cannot be concluded with third parties without their knowledge.


Many private car park owners use CCTV for evidential purposes. Images captured of unauthorised parking are generally only permitted in evidence before court if the driver was aware that images were being recorded.

Drivers who are caught on camera parking in a private car park without authorisation, should avoid disputing that they were the driver. If they do so, it could be considered in court as giving false evidence, which is punishable.

Towing costs

Unauthorised parking is considered unlawful interference with the private property of another (see § 858 German Civil Code).

As a result, in addition to having to pay a contractual penalty, drivers who park illegally on private property may also have to pay for the vehicle being clamped, towed away or impounded. Further costs a property owner can claim include those incurred in preparation for enforcing their rights, such as attempting to find the vehicle owner.


Parking in the supermarket car park without the intention of using the supermarket is illegal, as is parking in another other private car park without authorisation. If you park in a private car park without permission, you may incur high costs.

Christian Solmecke ist Partner der Kanzlei WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE und inbesondere in den Bereichen des IT-, des Medien- und des Internetrechts tätig. Darüber hinaus ist er Autor zahlreicher juristischer Fachveröffentlichungen in diesen Bereichen.

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