Like so many people who work in Chicago, Joe Sosnowski lives in the suburbs. He says his drive to a building maintenance job in Lincoln Park is usually pretty uneventful. But one day last May, the routine was interrupted by the color drivers love to hate: orange, in the form of parking tickets, tucked under his windshield wiper.
Sosnowski said he knew his plates had expired the week before, but was surprised to see he’d been nailed for a second violation.
"I couldn’t understand what it was for? I read into a little bit, and it said ‘no city sticker," Sosnowski told NBC Chicago. "I just put it back in the envelope. I wrote: I do not live in the city, thus I do not need a city sticker. Please correct this issue. Thank you."
Sosnowski said his car is registered to his address in Hanover Park, and therefore he figured the city would acknowledge that and withdraw the ticket. When instead he received notice the ticket was overdue and the $120 fee had doubled, it got his attention.
"They just did not respond at all to the letter I wrote them, so it was kind of frustrating," Sosnowski said. He said he and his mom fired off another appeal to the city, explaining that a city sticker should not be required in this case.
The Department of Revenue tells TNBC Chicago it did not receive the appeals from Sosnowski until his ticket was almost three months old. The fine had doubled, a spokesperson said, at which point the city sent a letter explaining the ways Sosnowski could prove his residency.
The first requirement: a copy of the vehicle sticker for the village in which he lives.
"I live in Hanover Park. They don’t do village stickers," Sosnowski said.
Two other documents that could get him off the hook were a utility bill and a lease or mortgage in his name.
"I live at home with my mom. I am 20-years old," he said. "This is impossible for me. They are making it impossible."
Mike Brockway, the self-proclaimed "Parking Ticket Geek" who monitors city parking ticket complaints via his website, The Expired Meter, said the city could have made the resolution easy.
"Somebody at the Department of Revenue should have said, ‘Give me 5 minutes, let me look in to this.’ It could be easily checked -- whatever databases they need to check,” Brockway said. “If the driver’s license is registered there, the plate is registered there -- what's the fight about?”
NBC Chicago asked the city to look into Sosnowski’s complaint, which led to a dismissal of his ticket. But the city says Sosnowski did not follow proper protocol, and if he had, his appeal would have been granted on a timely basis. Sosnowski isn’t so sure.
"They have a pretty specific way to get things dismissed, and they make it pretty challenging for you to do so," he said.