Proper Planning Prevents Parking Problems

January 8, 2018
Aaron S. Marines

Yes, this is a tongue twister and I’ll be impressed if you can say it five times fast, but parking is one of the biggest problems that community associations face.  No matter how the developer sets up the community, sooner or later there are either too few parking spaces, people parking where they don’t belong or parking vehicles that nobody wants to see out their front windows.  Too often developers don’t think about these issues or, if they do think about them, do not have a way to come up with a perfect solution.  The same is true of association boards.  Either they do not want to consider a plan to get a handle on parking problems or, if they do, their parking regulations don’t help the problem.

The lead article in the CAI Common Ground for September/October 2017 is titled “Park That Thought.”  It discusses some of the problems that associations have with parking.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t give many answers on how to solve the problems.  While there might not be a perfect solution to parking, some advance planning by both the developer and the association can help reduce parking problems.

For the developer:  The CAI article criticizes developers for creating parking problems. This oversimplifies the issue. Sometimes developers do allocate parking spaces in a way that makes problems.  But more often, the developer just doesn’t realize (or care about) the parking issues that the unit owners will face in the future.

A general rule for associations is that central parking lots are first come, first served.  Without more definition, parking lots are almost always Common Elements. However, a developer can alter this in the initial setup of the community.  A developer could assign specific parking spaces to units as Limited Common Elements.  If they do that, the parking space always goes with the title to the unit.  In other cases, developers have actually created “parking space units.”  These are actually separate units, with separate percentage interests, conveyed by separate deeds.  When separate parking space units are created, the governing documents usually say that a parking space unit can only be conveyed to the owner of a regular unit. Either of these solutions allow the developer to reserve parking spots for specific units.

Both of these approaches have good and bad points. In the positive column, if a developer assigns parking spaces to specific units, it eliminates the confusion over who gets to park where. If the developer sells “parking space units,” the owners of those units would be free to buy and sell them amongst themselves. For example, if a unit owner initially buys two parking space units, they can sell one of those units to another unit owner if they downsize to one car.  In the negative column, assigning parking spaces as either separate units or Limited Common Elements can be inefficient.  There could be people who have unused parking spaces, while others need extra. If a unit owner buys a unit that only has one parking space assigned to it, that unit owner may never be able to have room for a second car.

For associations: One of the biggest problems I see with associations is what to do with overflow or visitor parking.  Again, there is never enough parking for everybody’s cars in some communities. At the same time many communities have a number of spaces that are reserved as “visitor parking.”  The problem arises when a unit owner decides to claim the space as one of their own.  If an association wishes to keep the visitor parking open for visitors only, it needs to adopt rules and regulations that fine or tow unit owners that use the visitor spots.

While this may sound great in concept, it is sometimes difficult to do.  A Board can have the best intentions to leave the visitor spaces open.  Realistically, however, somebody needs to enforce the rule. There is no sense limiting visitor parking to two hours, for example, if no one is ever going to do a walkthrough to check. In that case, maybe the association should concentrate on enforcing against overnight parking as a way to keep unit owners from “squatting” on a visitor space.

Parking problems affect many community associations. This is true in both the development of the association and the day-to-day life of its residents long after the developer is gone.  There is no one size fits all solution to parking problems. Developers and associations should take a look at their parking problems, and try to come up with the best way to reasonably solve those issues.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.