This author always enjoyed watching Parking Wars, A&E’s popular reality television series that follows traffic enforcement employees as they ticket, “boot,” tow and release cars back to their owners in the performance of their parking enforcement duties. If you haven’t followed the show, you can nonetheless imagine that these encounters can get heated.

There are other parking wars being waged in rental units throughout the Bay Area, with space such a scarce and prized commodity. The maddening quest for street parking is not just a tribulation for drivers, but often a trial for tenants.

Landlords are charged with the fundamental task of providing tenants a nice place to live and useful amenities and in turn, tenants pay for the privilege of residing there. With adequate parking one of the most important amenities to tenants, it’s no surprise it can also be one of the top causes of frustrations and conflict between landlords, tenants and other residents living in close quarters.

Implied in every California lease is the tenant’s right to reasonably occupy the dwelling peacefully and without recurring disruption. A loss of parking, then, may very well constitute a breach of the landlord’s duty.

Not uncommonly, we encounter inventive tenants who carve out makeshift parking spaces that are not authorized or interfere with another tenant’s “quiet enjoyment” of their dwelling. Of course, another tenant is not allowed to infringe on their neighbor’s right to quiet enjoyment and since a tenant does not have a lease with his or her neighbor, taking over another resident’s assigned parking spot is called a nuisance and though not covered under the covenant of quiet enjoyment, the offending tenant could be culpable of a lease violation.

Don’t let parking wars fester

Although Californians are familiar with road rage, we queried YouTube for the term “parking rage,” and the video results produced spirited conflicts too colorful to share here, but we did come across this G-rated police blotter which recounts a woman being threatened and nearly mowed down by a motorist who felt he was entitled to the parking spot she claimed.

From our hard-won experience in managing landlord-tenant relationships, we have found that a great number of owners and property managers are conflict avoiders and would rather kick the can down the road in hopes that conflicts will somehow work themselves on their own without proactive action. When this wishful thinking fails, the underlying conflict is almost always enlarged, and so we advise owners or their agents to reign in parking spaces and take proactive action by serving a 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit and if the uncourteous, recalcitrant tenant continues to park where they don’t belong, it may constitute a reason for eviction.

What does the lease say?

Like most rental rules, much miscommunication can be avoided with an ironclad lease that addresses parking and anticipates potential issues with the unique circumstances of the property. Many landlords have the tendency to use stale, outdated leases that leaves parking a dangling, ambiguous topic. Here are just some of the considerations that should be aired out in the lease agreement.

  • Vehicles in areas that are not designated for parking, such as lawns, common areas, in front of dumpsters, double parking, cars off to the side of the driveway or parking lot, etc.
  • Each unit assigned specific parking spaces, accommodating parking for the tenant’s own vehicles with assigned parking spaces, perhaps painting numbers for each parking stall and recording them in the lease agreement or a parking addendum, even ID stickers for tenant vehicles to display. 
  • Clarification of guest parking rules: Tenants are allowed by law to have guests at the property that they renting or leasing and while the landlord can impose limits on how long those visitors can stay, often not spelled out in the lease is where those guests park. Tenants or his or her guests should have a clear understanding that parking in another resident’s assigned space is not allowed and perhaps, subject to towing. 
  • Specifying a specific, properly-sized motorized vehicle for each parking space: Improvising tenants may attempt to squeeze in a motorcycle with their car, or take full advantage of the parking space with a weekend RV, trailers, boats and other vehicles that push the envelope of a reasonably sized parking space. Other times, there may be instances of junked or inoperable vehicles that create an eyesore to the property. Similarly, some tenants may have an affinity for excessive washing or repair of a vehicle, creating an impromptu car wash or auto repair shop with tools and trinkets that spill into areas that are designated for other tenants.

If tenant parking is glaringly absent from your rental agreement, perhaps it’s time to sit down with an attorney to plug the holes.

Whether the physical space is altered through additions, conversions and the like, tenants come and go, or other circumstances of the rental business change, parking accommodations can change with it. We will resist the temptation here to relate stories, but suffice it to say parking rules can be an evolutionary process, with landlords discovering new issues and facing unheard-of situations on a regular basis.

Since parking is such a potentially contentious amenity, we recommend owners communicate any parking changing in writing, perhaps in the form of an addendum, and the landlord may also consider changing the terms of the tenancy. The landlord’s ability to modify the rental agreement and the required amount of notice afforded will depend on how cooperative the resident is, the tenancy type and how long the tenant has occupied the unit. 

If the tenant fails to comply with the notice of the change of tenancy terms after the expiration of the notice period, the owner may serve a notice to perform covenant or quit and if the parking violation isn’t corrected, eviction measures can be pursued.

Still other issues linger

A tenant who is given a place to park may improperly convert the space into a storage area and worse, create a living space. Using garages for human habitation is a cardinal sin and exposes landlords to significant liability, we noted in this article on unauthorized tenant alterations.

Another ancillary issue we see is when a landlord takes away parking in a rent-controlled jurisdiction. If the aggrieved parker feels that they have been shortchanged any amenities promised in the rental agreement, the tenant can petition a rent board for a reduction in base rent because any perceived reduction in amenities should be met with a commensurate reduction in rent, he or she will argue.

A word about towing

Landlords can tow improperly parked on their rental property, with many caveats. If the parking obstruction is deemed not too obstructive severe, we might advise landlords to have a polite conversation to air out the issue before availing the California Vehicle Code and calling the tow company. Merely because a landlord “may” remove a vehicle does not necessarily mean they “should.” Stranding tenants may not further the landlord’s best interests. Nor does turning a blind eye, such as when a third party’s vehicle prevents another tenant’s ingress and egress. Reasonable judgment and common sense should be used.

If towing a vehicle becomes necessary, the law requires ample notice be given to the owner that he or she risks having the improperly parked vehicle towed at their expense. 

This prominent notice must be displayed at the entranceway to the property – although rental property owners can elect to display these warnings elsewhere, it must at least greet visitors upon their entry to the rental property.

The sign must contain the name and telephone number of the towing company, as well as the telephone number of local law enforcement so that the wayward parker can ascertain the whereabouts of the vehicle and be afforded the opportunity to recover it.

A landlord’s obstruction of parking can be tantamount to harassment

In November 2014, the Oakland City Council adopted the Tenant Protection Ordinance (“TPO”) in response to a perceived rash of landlord harassment and intimidation that purportedly led to the displacement of tenants. This ordinance aims to deter landlords from threatening to, interrupting, terminating, or failing to provide housing services. When a tenant feels that the landlord has adversely affected their parking arrangements, it is possible that harassment or intimidation can be alleged.

Berkeley likewise anticipated illegal evictions through intimidating or coercive conduct and codified this disfavor into law. (B.M.C. 13.79.060)

The quintessential point is that parking policies should be well-thought-out, documented and clearly understood by all parties. If there is a gaffe in communication, rent boards are all too willing to air out the resident’s parking grievance, often to the detriment of the owner.

Of course, you can turn to Bornstein Law to avoid or resolve parking wars. Contact our office for informed advice.

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