Are Parking Lots Strictly for Cars?

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Q: A unit owner who does not own a car–and therefore does not occupy a parking space–has parked a 12-foot boat in our parking area. We have 21 unassigned parking spaces for 12 units and have never had a shortage of parking spaces. We are concerned, however, that allowing the boat will establish a precedent and encourage other owners to park large vehicles in the lot. Our documents do not offer guidance. Can the board prohibit owners from parking boats? What would be the correct procedure? – Key Biscayne, Florida

A: Parking is a continuous source of controversy in many communities, whether it’s commercial vehicles in a residential area, boats and recreational vehicles (RVs), or a shortage of available parking spaces. It is one of the problems that tests a board’s judgment and political skill, and one that affects how the association is viewed by members and residents. Sound judgment must be joined with common sense and sensitivity to reach the best solution for everyone concerned.

RULES AND PRECEDENTS:

As your question suggests, you need to review your association documents and applicable state statutes. Unless those sources include some basis for regulating the common areas, you will not be able to control the types of vehicles parked in your common lot. The authority may be broadly stated, but it must be in those sources.

Your documents may not specifically state whether the association can regulate the parking of boats, trailers, or other types of vehicles. However, there probably is some language that states–perhaps not clearly–whether your community has this power. Most state statutes, such as the Uniform Condominium Act, give associations the power to adopt rules and regulations, which would include the power to regulate parking on common areas, such as your parking lot.

You asked whether allowing the boat will set a precedent. That’s hard to answer without knowing more about your documents, your residents (do many boat owners live in the community?), and other factors. However, the worst precedent is to ignore the boat entirely. If you have a rule prohibiting boats, you should enforce it consistently and fairly.  If you decide to make an exception, you should clearly document the reasons. Either way, the board should record its decision making process in the meeting minutes.  There may room to compromise. Since you note there is no shortage of parking spaces, perhaps you could allow the boat until such a shortage occurs.

SOLICIT COMMUNITY INPUT:

Assuming the association has the authority to enforce parking rules, the question is how to adopt and implement them. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that a new rule prohibiting boats or other large vehicles may be opposed by some member of your community, particularly boat-owning neighbors. As with many association issues, your board should take the pulse of the entire community before making a decision. Although restrictions against RVs and boats are common, the community must ultimately decide what types of vehicles it wants in its parking lot–and which ones will diminish the community’s appearance and property values.

Consider drafting some proposed parking lot rules. You may want to consult sources like CAI’s book Writing & Enforcing Parking Rules for Community Associations. What kinds of vehicles should be permitted? Passenger cars only? What about minivans or sport utility vehicles? What about boats, trailers, and campers? Once you have focused your thinking on these questions (and others are sure to arise once you start considering the problems), seek input from your neighbors. Publish the proposed rules in a newsletter or special mailing, or hold an owners meeting to discuss them.

Don’t be surprised by the responses and suggestions. What’s important is that you obtain the input of your neighbors, and that your neighbors have a chance to give it. Once the board makes its decision, homeowners will be more likely to comply with the new rules, and the board will be in a stronger position to enforce them legally, if need be.

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