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Subject: Yet another parking debacle
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04/23/2012 7:21 AM  
About a third of the units in my townhouse community don't have a garage - residents are assigned one space in nearby parking lots. We have a city owned street that goes through the community - homeowners can only park on one side.

Two years ago, our Board was getting so many complaints about residents finding other people in their assigned spaces we decided to purchase and distribute parking passes to those residents. This way everyone would know who belongs where. For the most part that worked until the last three months or so, when the complaints - and a few more began to reappear.

This time, the Board decided to bring in a towing company that would do periodic, unannounced sweeps of the community looking for cars with passes that didn't match the assigned space, no pass whatsoever, inoperable vehicles (regardless of where they were parked), parking in the fire lanes and so on. We sent a notice to homeowners and an article was also published in our newsletter.

Unfortunately, we've since realized we've made several mistakes on this issue - starting with not giving people 30 days advance notice. The most recent meeting was filled with so much yelling, threatening, accusations of the Board accepting kickbacks, F-bombs dropping everywhere, that the meeting had to be called off and no other Association business was conducted.

(I've received a leave of absence from the Board for a few months due to personal matters I must deal with and while I could say "hey, I wasn't at that meeting wherer the decision was made," I still feel obligated to help clean up the mess).

Now, for my question. We have some information from the towing company on the cars that were towed, but I'd like the Board to gather more so we can see which ones were legit and which ones warrant a refund from the association (we've already terminated our contract with the company because we also learned of some of their business practices that are quite disturbing). The rest of the Board has said that would take too long and it's easier to simply refund everyone's money and move on.

Now I have no problem with refunding some of the tows, as some of the victims were homeowners who brought their unit a few months ago - our new homeowner packets don't have any information on parking so they didn't even know they had an assigned spot. On the other hand, there was at least one tow where the car had a pass, but it didn't match the number painted on the space - I don't think this deserves a refund.

Am I being unreasonable? We really want to clean this up as much as possible because Indianapolis already has an issue with "predatory towing" and the last thing we need is a mention on the 6 pm news.


04/23/2012 7:34 AM  

I don't think your being unreasonable. The first thing you need to identify if the Association met it's notification obligations.
If they did not, then you should just refund everyone's money, as the board failed to properly implement the procedure.
If they did, then going through each complaint might be worth it.

Based on what you posted, it appears that there is a 30 day notification requirement you did not meet. Since this was not met, it's probably best just to refund everyone. Additionally:
Did the Association check county regulations and have the required signage?
Have you corrected the notification of the parking policy to new residents?
Have you addressed how to identify if another owner allowed a neighbor to use their space (guest passes perhaps)?

Rather than spending time and energy identifying which tow may have been proper, it might be better to spend that time and energy addressing these issues.




04/23/2012 10:52 AM  
Thanks for the tips.

I can't remember if we have specific notificaiton on rules - until this brain fart, we usually gave people a 30 day notice and reinforced them via a newsletter article. We do have notices regarding the annual budget and meeting - the meeting announcement must be sent 30 days in advance and the budget must be distributed 30 days before it takes effect (the Board may increase it up to 5% without homeowner approval)

As part of their service, the towing company did post signs, including two at the entrance to the community. That happens to be the city street, and since it has the easement rights, it appears they weren't supposed to be there. All of the signs have since been removed. I've suggested that we get our own signs for our parking lots since we own that, maybe even have "reserved parking only" painted across the numbered spaces..

Our second mistake in all this (one out of many) was that we didn't check the county regulations. There is a state law which says vehicles that appear abandoned have to be tagged with a 24 hour notice before you get rid of them This eads to the question as to why anyone should have to wait that long if the vehicle is on PRIVATE property. That's one issue surrounding the predatory towing controvery.

Of course, our vice president tried calling the city last week to get information on what the regulations say -there are city oridinances on the subject, but they aren't clear either. He got transferred all over the place in in the end, someone from the code enforcement department is supposed to call this week, but no one (including people in that department) seem to know the definitive answer.

We're working on adding something in the welcome packet about parking - in fact, I want to look at the entire thing to see if there's other information we should be giving to the new owners. They already get a copy of the Bylaws and CCRs, but as everyone knows, no one really reads or understands them. Yes, they're pretty much silent on specifics regarding parking. That's why we've adopted some city ordinances as commumity rules, such as no parking on the sidewalk or in fire lanes.

The guest parking passes may be a good idea - right now, we plan to tell homeowners that it's ok to have a friend parkin in their space - but since a parking pass is required, they'll have to let the friend borrow it and then get it back before they leave. I'm also a little worried about regular passes somehow being altered in an attempt to use spaces that aren't being used because the house is empty (I suspect that might have also lead to some tows)


04/23/2012 1:19 PM  
There are several ways to handle the parking problem.

The first solution is to dump all the assigned spaces. Those owners who purchased units without garages have no property interest in a particular space in a common area parking lot. Point them to the parking lot and let them fend for themselves. They should have known when they purchased that parking would be a problem. Unless the CC&R's require assigned parking those owners have no reason to expect it. Kinda harsh but it beats having to refund towing fees.

Alternatively, assign specific spaces to those owners who lack garages. Inform the owners that they are responsible for erecting signs to inform others that the space is for their exclusive use. Each owner may then enforce his rights to that space as he sees fit. That includes contracting with a towing company to remove violators. This removes the HOA from having to determine who is and who is not authorized to park in a space.

BTW, I owned a towing company for a short time. I found that the local laws on towing from private property were so unfavorable to a towing operator that I never did it. My competitors ignored the laws and towed cars away. Since they never bothered to read the law they did not know they were violating it and most of the people who had their cars towed were as equally ignorant of their rights so they paid up.
(South Carolina)


04/23/2012 1:52 PM  

Well you all did step in the mud.....LOL

My suggestions:

1. Refund all the money. Could be a horror show be selective.

2. Come up with an approved (all alike) sign to be placed in the "owned" spots. Maybe something simple like Private Parking Spot. Towing Enforced.

3. Let the owned spot owners deal with the Towing Enforced warning.

4. Get the HOA out of the towing business ASAP and never get into it again.

Hope this helps.


04/23/2012 3:27 PM  
I don't think the HOA should return any funds myself. There were violations that fell into the towing catagory and contractual rules. Hence why they got towed. The HOA needs to have defined parking rules updated in their CC&R's. This is a long process to update and file but may be worth the effort in the end.

Parking is always an issue in a HOA. It is up to the HOA to decide how to handle it. Since this is a private property issue the solution is held within the membership. I would take a vote or consensus on how people would like to handle violators or the parking rules. Do they want the HOA to have the power to tow or keep it as an individual's choice to enforce? This is an area that is beyond board and should have a special meeting with ALL interested members to decide. Just maybe take the top 5 suggestions from the membership and work from there.

Former HOA President


04/23/2012 3:29 PM  

I think the problem I have with this is that the parking lot is (I assume) a common area for use by all owners and owned equally by all owners. Assigning a space for the exclusive use of a particular member removes that space from use by all other members.

You wrote that the CC&R's are "pretty much silent on specifics regarding parking." If your community documents are silent then what would be the legal basis for the association to hand over part of a common area to a particular owner?

I see nothing but more problems for your association if you continue trying to assign spaces and enforce parking rules. You association does not own the cars and they are not driving the cars. Whatever disputes that have arisen are basically owner versus owner, but are fueled by the association handing over common area. If you end the assigned parking, you will remove most of the fuel.

Those who bought units without garages knew (or should have known) that there was no deeded parking spaces for them and that they would be parking in a common area parking lot. The association is not mommy and cannot be expected to solve all the problems that owners put themselves into.
(South Carolina)


04/23/2012 5:02 PM  

Me again........LOL

I misread one thing in your original post. You said "assigned parking spots" and I misread as "deeded parking spots".

My bad, thus my advice changes.

Get out of the parking lot business. Let the natives fight each other for the parking spots. Not your problem. It is theirs. They knew the issue when they bought in.

My bad.



04/24/2012 8:24 AM  
Thanks again everyone – some of your comments really made me smile! (As a HOA board member, you take simple joys when they pop up)

LarryB13 – your experiences as a towing company owner pretty much summarize what’s happening in several areas of Indianapolis right now. The state law says tag the car first and give the owner 24 hours to move it or tow away – but, as I said earlier, why should the property owner have to wait that long if it’s not supposed to be there anyway. There are several stores in town that post signs saying “no overnight parking – violators will be towed” and they have towing companies come in overnight to enforce the matter. This appears to be a conflict with the law, but if someone calls police, they’ll tell you “sorry, this is a civil matter.”

I must say as I started hearing about the parking brouhaha, I did think “to hell with it – from now on no more assigned parking. I don’t care if you’ve had X space since 1980 (the community began building out in 1972), you’ll just have to fit in where you can get in.” However, the assigned parking is a holdover from the developer – to ensure people were fairly close to their units, spaces were assigned.

Occasionally, we’ve had to accommodate a handicapped driver who needed two spaces (both close to the unit), but it was doable. The problem these days is that people have three, four or more cars and for some reason, they move into a community our size and make everyone angry when they park them all over the place. And that’s why I’d be really concerned about having half a dozen signs all over the place (some would probably use chairs like they do in certain crowded Chicago neighborhoods during winter). Which would probably lead to shouting matches, fistfights and much more.

MelissaP1 –I like the idea of polling the community. That’s exactly what we’ll do in September, when we publish our annual homeowners’ survey (maybe we’ll get more than the five responses we got last year!) Like you, I wasn’t crazy about refunding money for each and every tow because there WERE a few that were justified (thus the reason I posted this subject because you guys always come up with ideas and perspectives I hadn’t thought of!) However, as some have pointed out, it’s probably easier to just refund everyone’s money – otherwise we’ll run into more problems with accusations of favoritism and God knows what else.

JohnC46 – After the last Board meeting, I can assure you that we’re definitely out of the towing business! That is, except for vehicles with expired plates, inoperable vehicles, the ones parked on the grass or in the fire lanes, the occasional semi and stuff like that there. For those we’ll have our security officer (also a police officer) handle those. He’s told us it would be easier to have everyone call him with complaints, but I worry about coverage when he’s on vacation or has job duties that keep him doing his daily drive through. Once we had two security officers, but because of delinquencies and other maintenance demands, we’ve made do with one, so it may be time to revisit this

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