it’s a question that needs an accurate answer, and the answer will depend on any number of circumstances, especially when asked within the context of community and condominium environments. Answers will vary, depending on who you ask: board members, managers, homeowners, tenants, guests, or attorneys. Not knowing the right answers can have disastrous consequences from frustrated boards and owners, frazzled managers, and not to mention the towed cars and the threat of lawsuits. It’s an issue that figures prominently in every association and one that tends to evolve. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to developing a fair and equitable policy for the allocation and use of a much in demand yet limited resource: parking spaces. It’s complicated and complex, with a significant impact on associations, boards, managers and every single resident who drives a car.
And the problem is not going away anytime soon. Americans love their cars. Those cars, similar to pets, are often treated as pampered members of the family, ensconced in attached garages that adjoin the living space set aside for humans. Americans often feel that everyone is entitled to a vehicle—and, in fact, vehicles are outnumbering drivers. Statistics from the Federal Highway Administration indicate that in the past 25 or 30 years, the number of motor vehicle registrations has outpaced the number of licensed drivers. Given those statistics, it’s noteworthy that in most of the common interest communities, residents are restricted to one or two designated or deeded parking spaces per unit, with a sprinkling of spaces for visitors tucked into far-flung corners of the common property. Even more discouraging is that a community with that type of parking arrangement is a best-case scenario, usually occurring in suburban and rural areas where projects were constructed on spacious tracts of land. For big-city condominium owners, parking is even more of a challenge because city ordinances often dictate street parking. For the lucky residents in larger or newer urban buildings, garage spaces may be deeded along with a unit, or—in a less attractive and more expensive option—available for sale as a separate piece of property.
So, where does one look for the answers? In this issue of Quorum, we will explore several facets of the parking conundrum: the source(s) of the problem, the development of common area parking rules and regulations, enforcement of those policies, fair housing accommodations, as well as the construction and maintenance of common parking areas and garages. Any discussion on parking will need to consider the governing documents as they relate to parking, and potential remedies that are available when parking restrictions or rules are violated, as well as potential exceptions to their enforcement. But, every community is different and therefore can usually be counted on to take a unique approach in dealing with parking problems. That individualized approach starts with a community’s governing documents, which spell out parking privileges for owners. Governing documents can vary considerably from one association to another but should be drafted to define the common areas/elements and limited common areas/elements, as well as what common elements, may be converted into limited common elements. Also, addressed is whether and how common areas/ elements may be designated for the use of certain owners, which will factor into any parking space rental program a board may consider in an attempt to meet a chronic parking shortage in their community. Case law on parking (and it is considerable) tells us that rules and regulations cannot be adopted pursuant to powers granted to the board in the bylaws if the rule or regulation would have the effect of divesting owners of rights in the common or limited common areas and elements provided in the declaration. Just because a policy seems fair to a board or association doesn’t necessarily mean that it is fair or legal. When in doubt, seek legal advice.
Disputes over parking may crop up because many association documents are mute on the subject of parking. Unless the documents provide specific authorization, an association has no right to convert common elements to limited common elements or to assign rights to use common areas/elements unequally among owners. And without specific rules in hand to govern parking, a community has no guidelines to resolve a conflict. Help for associations that are grappling with parking complaints can come from a well—crafed set of rules and regulations. Although the board exercises control and authority over the limited common elements, the unit owner of a limited common element is entitled to the exclusive use and enjoyment of the parking space. Still subject to the board’s control is the owner’s proper use of the limited common element. Tere can be no conflict between the declaration requirements and the rules and regulations applicable to the limited common element. The goal for any board or manager in developing an effective parking program is avoiding tension and complaints. The first step is to assess a community’s limitations and on that basis provide for fair and reasonable regulation of parking spaces. Workable options may include not only a policy of permits for residents and guests but also an added penalty of random towing to deal with infractions. The penalty may sound harsh, but It is next to impossible to enforce these procedures without towing. With a predictable penalty in place for transgressors, the problems stop. Stricter policies, such as requiring stickers for every vehicle parked on the property, may offer the most equitable solutions—as long as all owners are informed about the details of those policies.
The enforcement of parking restrictions is one of the most common problems that associations and property managers face.Parking spaces are often at a premium in densely packed urban areas, and issues arise when owners, tenants, and guests fail to adhere to the established parking policy. In contrast, suburban site associations with single-family homes often deal with issues related to parking boats, commercial vehicles or inoperable vehicles in driveways or on a common area street. Given the vast array of potential parking problems, associations and managers need to be prepared to appropriately handle violations of parking restrictions. Another source of parking contention in condominiums stems from the ban some communities place on commercial vehicles. That problem has its roots in the fact that the community may not have clearly defined what the word commercial means. Any vehicle can have a commercial registration plate.
So how did this persistent and pervasive parking shortage come to be? It may be tempting to blame developers and builders for the lack of vehicle space. It certainly costs less for them to construct roadways and parking at bare minimum sizes. As a result of the scarcity, the ensuing parking infractions may seem pervasive to property managers, since they are the first in line for the complaints. But, to be fair, the situation may not be entirely the fault of the developer. Even in new developments, if zoning or local regulations specify one or two parking spaces per unit, the builder will typically meet that standard. To solve the problem of limited parking space, suburban communities which have more space and, therefore, more flexibility than their city cousins— might consider repurposing outdoor common areas into parking. Given that it seems to be an easy solution, it’s somewhat surprising that the approach has not proved more popular. Also problematic is that while residents may ask for more parking, they are not likely to want to change the landscape to get it. Losing green space to pavement is never a popular concept. Associations are often reluctant to install more asphalt. Most own- ers don’t want an asphalt jungle. But even a less invasive approach to solving a parking problem, such as changing the governing documents to tighten parking regulations, can also ruffle some residents, particularly if it changes the tone of the community the owners originally bought into. The process required to make the conversion might be the culprit, as it can include the need for an environmental assessment, the results of which might preclude the creation of more paved surfaces because of state or local regulations concerning wetlands protection and stormwater management.
Solving parking problems requires clear communication. And that effort isn’t limited to updating governing documents. It’s also an issue in the locations where residents and visitors park. Signs need to be posted letting drivers know if it’s okay to park. Education is critical to the success of at least attempting to communicate as regu- lations concerning deeded spaces, permits, and towing are considered. When rules are adopted, communication is key, and that communication needs to be sympathetic to the human component of parking problems. Parking can be a very emotional is- sue. It’s distressing to get home from work at midnight and fnd someone is parked in your space. Never in a million years did I dream that I would someday have a hand in producing an educational video aptly names Parking Policy Basics to capture the attention of the millennial resident population and at least make them aware of the policy’s exis- tence. Tankfully my mother has yet to dis- cover this little YouTube gem…
Confusion can arise from any number of situations. Consider a condo resident who runs a delivery service with his Honda Civic. Is the Civic a commercial vehicle? What about the plumber who drives a van—which may or may not display lettering? Or how about owners who drive pickup trucks, which in many areas have replaced dad’s Oldsmobile as the vehicle of choice? If a community wants to prohibit certain vehicles, the board should identify its real objection. In many cases, the problem may just come down to size. Commercial vehicles over a certain weight may serve as a better definition. Problems for residents, whether it’s parking or any other regulation, ofen arise because owners don’t understand what they bought into. In some communities, residents do make an effort to help each other, but It comes down to what the residents want and balancing the needs of the entire community against the demands of the most vocal complainers.
Afer all the careful planning that goes into a fair and equitable parking policy for any community, some attention needs to be focused on the physical parking elements. Associations need to ensure that it has the labor resources and funding to properly maintain its parking areas, whether those are surface lots or garages. A regular maintenance program will prolong the useful life of a parking structure or surface lot and reduce the cost of operations if problems are found and addressed early on. Aside from major structural repairs and scheduled replacements or upgrades, most parking area maintenance is not complicated and simply needs to be performed routinely. Finally, what about safety and security in parking areas? What responsibilities and obligations do associations have? Adequate lighting and signage, for sure. But what about other security measures that might be taken to deter criminal activity? Yet another can of worms to be opened.
As we delve deeper into answering questions on parking, even more are generated. One thing is for sure: Is it okay to park here?” is definitely a loaded question. So, here we go… and, hope that our readers fnd some help in the answers we attempt to provide.
By Suzanne White, CMCA, AMS
Suzanne has been the general manager of the Gates of McLean Condominium in Tysons, Virginia for over ten years. She has been issuing parking violations warnings and towing cars for over twenty years as an onsite manager of various HOAs and condominiums in the Northern Virginia area.