There’s nothing worse than circling the block over and over in search of a parking space. When condo owners have a spot to call their own, it’s a luxury that can be considered priceless—especially in the harsh New England winters, when snowplows need to come in, limiting overnight parking in many areas.
That’s why New England condominiums that offer their own parking lots are much more in demand than those that don’t.
“It’s a big deal because the demand for parking has increased over the years,” says Ronald Brown, CMCA, president of R Brown Partners, a management firm in Boston. “Real estate brokers always want more parking and it is a big draw for those looking for a new home.”
In the majority of condominium communities, residents are restricted to one or two designated or deeded parking spaces per unit, with extra spaces for visitors in the common property.
“Most sites have sufficient parking,” says David Abel, CMCA, senior manager at First Realty Management in Boston. “The more urban sites seem to be in equilibrium, so even if there are not enough spaces, the demand has been met otherwise.”
Even so, keeping everyone happy is not the easiest job for condo associations and the management companies in charge. Battles over spaces, guest parking and size of spots are a constant source of headaches. Brown has even had to deal with complaints about people putting decorated covers on their motorcycles and has written letters asking the owners to use plain coverings rather than something purple with yellow stripes.
“Every community is different and takes a unique approach to how it deals with parking problems,” says Stephen DiNocco, CMCA, AMS, principal of Affinity Realty & Property Management LLC in Boston. “Some have deeded parking, some have assigned spaces, and some are first-come, first-served.”
The method by which parking spaces are allocated depends on the association. Some will give parking spaces according to the number of bedrooms, some based on seniority, some based on a fee structure. Whatever approach is decided will be based on the community’s deeds or condominium rules and regulations, commonly called CC&Rs, (covenants, conditions and restrictions) which will spell out parking privileges for unit owners.
Plenty of parking restrictions are in place and the most common problem, according to the experts, concerns people abusing guest parking, taking those spots for their second—or third—personal cars.
“Unassigned spaces being used by residents for extra vehicles is the thing we get called on the most,” says Abel. “Another challenge is getting owners to move vehicles to allow proper and complete snow removal [for outdoor garages or lots].”
Regardless of whether the facility is underneath the building or adjacent to it, there’s more to running a parking garage than just painting some stripes on the pavement and watching the cash roll in. Management, allocation of spaces, and security are just the beginning of the considerations that must be taken into account.
Suppose someone has a disability and needs to be close to the door or elevator, but that space is already assigned to someone. It’s up to those in charge of the condo community to rearrange the parking privileges in a fair and practical manner.
Typically, the board may require proof of a medical need before making such a change, but people are usually willing to help and adjust as necessary.
More than Cars
Another parking issue for many condos involves commercial vehicles and pickup trucks. There was a time when the latter were banned, but today the pickup has become the family car.
The same holds true for sport utility vehicles. With over eight million SUVs on the road, it’s reasonable to think that a large percentage of condo owners are driving them, and parking lots may not have the bigger spaces they require.
“Upsizing the spaces is a real problem,” Brown says. “Generally, a permit was granted on the basis of a parking lot design, so to change it would be a problem.”
He cites an example of a condo parking lot that was originally a hospital property that lay dormant and was recycled into condos, years before the SUV took off. It would be a real problem to re-stripe or change anything in the existing lot to accommodate the bigger vehicles.
“Condo association documents are quite specific about what you can and cannot do,” Brown says. “You need to follow the rules, and you need an amendment to the master deed if you are going to change things, as there’s not a great deal of flexibility in resolving this.”
Then there’s the issue of boats and motor homes.
“Typically, boats and RVs are simply not allowed,” Abel says. “Obvious commercial vehicles are also outlawed.”
He uses the word “obvious” because some people use their cars for business deliveries or have vans to run a small fix-it company out of their home. These aren’t clear commercial vehicles and the policies on these could be tricky.
It is rare for a condo in New England to use its parking lot as a means for creating revenue from outside parkers, but some will charge a fee to their owners for the use of the spaces. And parking doesn’t always come cheap.
Residents without cars who have spaces deeded may even want to rent them out, but that is not always looked upon with favor by the rest of the community.
“Probably, without exception, they would be allowed to rent to another owner in the building, but rarely—if ever—are they allowed to rent to anyone outside the building,” Abel says. “It’s really about security and keeping peace of mind.”
DiNocco says that some properties have passes and renew the parking on an annual basis.
“I have a place that has 39 spots and they license them on a first-come, first-served basis, and they charge $300 a year to use it,” he says. “Other places might have 1.25 spaces per unit. They will guarantee one assigned spot and the rest are first-come, first-serve.”
The money raised is normally set aside in a special parking reserve fund that is used for repairs and other maintenance issues. This way, the residents are paying directly for the resources themselves.
“One thing to keep in mind is that most of my places do not have specific parking spaces and are on a first-come, first-served basis, and we find that we will get a better use of the spaces,” DiNocco says. “What we have found is that once you have them assigned, it’s actually less, not more, because you have spaces sitting empty.”
Enforcing the Law
To control correct parking procedures, permits or stickers are issued for the owners and if they are not complying, warnings are issued, orange stickers may be placed on cars, and as a last resort, cars will be towed.
“Just like any other rule, we document with a letter—and perhaps a picture—the issues, and issue warnings and then fines are determined by the condo documents,” Abel says. “Towing is rare but sometimes it is necessary.”
Brown cites an example of one property that has 71 units and 102 spaces, where some owners have two spaces and others only one, with nine guest parking spots.
“The problem you have is if someone buys or rents a condo and they need two parking spaces, they happily use guest parking and get clever about it and change the cars to beat the system,” Brown says. “You need to be able to have the means to keep this from becoming a problem.”
Rules were set in that one particular lot where no one car would be allowed to use a guest spot for more than three days at a time or no more than seven days in a 30-day period.
“To control that you need to monitor,” he says. “That means someone needs to go out and mark the cars, which we do. It’s amazing how quickly things resolve itself.”
With the advent of hybrid and electric cars, many vehicles require special charging stations, and drivers of these cars would like to see these added to the condo parking lots.
“I really haven’t seen that yet and it’s not something that I think you will see anytime soon,” DiNocco says. “I can’t see the association committing to that expense for such a small percentage of the population. If someone wanted to put in their own meter, they might consider that.”
Brown has had discussions with one owner about including a charging station, but he too doesn’t see it as a real option in the immediate future. To make a change like that would require more than just deciding to do it because of the construction that might be involved.
“Of course, if the relevant issue is addressed in the master deed or trust, any change will require an amendment,” Abel says. “This would be a much more difficult hurdle compared to simply changing a rule.”
As the number of vehicles on the road has grown, and the space available for them hasn’t, parking spaces have become an increasingly valuable amenity in New England condominiums—and one that few residents are taking for granted.
Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium.