By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Parking shortages are a common problem in HOA-governed communities, causing inconvenience, and serious problems for pedestrians and the disabled.
A reader from San Diego, recently contacted me about my previous post Should your HOA have the right to inspect your garage?
In that August 28 post, I wrote about the Eastlake Trails and Eastlake Woods neighborhoods. Consisting of hundreds of homes, both Chula Vista HOA-governed communities face the challenge of limited parking. It’s a common problem that leads many residents to park their vehicles outside their garages, overflowing onto driveways and streets.
The focus of my previous post was the HOA’s intent to start inspecting garages, to make sure that residents were actually using their personal space for parking vehicles.
That caused an uproar, as you might imagine. Homeowners and residents packed HOA meetings, angrily objecting to the HOA’s proposed invasion of privacy. Ultimately, the HOA backed off of its plans to require mandatory garage inspections.
Here at IAC, I try to consider various housing consumer perspectives, and think outside the box, challenging status quo assumptions about HOA-governed communities.
However, occasionally, when I opine about important HOA issues, I miss some important points. And, sometimes, my readers set me straight.
Reader Feedback: cars that block sidewalks create barriers for the disabled
After I posted my Garage Inspections article to my social media accounts, I received the following feedback from a reader in San Diego.
Not a crisis? It is for #disabled homeowners. In my neighborhood the #HOA allows people to park over or on the common area walkways, blocking the path of pedestrians, especially DISABLED pedestrians. The HOA stubbornly refuses to accommodate disabled residents. #Sandiego #bayho https://t.co/F1FgsnbdeO pic.twitter.com/dfkjQGbFlb
— big G (@SpineProblem) November 15, 2019
Well, big G makes a very good point. Even though I’ve addressed the numerous ways HOAs discriminate against people with disabilities here on IAC, I completely overlooked the hazards of cars blocking pedestrian sidewalks.
While it may be a small inconvenience for an able-bodied adult to walk around an oversize vehicle blocking the sidewalk, that’s not the case for everyone. For anyone who uses a walker or a wheelchair, barriers on the sidewalk limit mobility and personal freedom.
And, come to think of it, blocked sidewalks aren’t safe for children or parents transporting babies in strollers either.
So, I stand corrected. Rendering sidewalks useless and unsafe to many pedestrians, and especially the disabled, is a crisis.
And, as big G points out in the following comment, as cities in California and other states in the U.S. embrace Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, also known as ‘granny flats’) in densely populated neighborhoods, the parking problem will only get worse.
My #HOA started approving add on rooms, increasing housing density, and bringing more cars, all without asking homeowners and lenders if they consent, as it says in our legal contract, the CC&R’s. The result? Blocked sidewalks and streets. #Bayho #sandiego https://t.co/BlEGpHr3Zz pic.twitter.com/bGN4iF7x8F
— big G (@SpineProblem) November 14, 2019
That said, I don’t think garage inspections are the best solution to reducing the overflow of vehicles onto sidewalks and crowded, narrow streets.
There must be better alternatives.
So many cars. So little space for parking.
Ideally, more residents would use their garage for parking. But there are two very good reasons why they do not park their cars or trucks in a garage.
- Their vehicles are too large to fit in a garage that’s too small.
Residents use the garage to store their tools, lawn mowers, and outdoor toys and recreational gear. None of these things can be stored indoors. Nor can they be left out in the open.
The fact is, when many HOA-governed and common interest communities were built, planners did not carefully consider these realities. Home builders were more concerned about maximizing the number of homes in the development, while minimizing construction costs.
In the end, thousands of communities are stuck with narrow roads, short driveways, and, if they exist, cramped garages.
Residents and guests have to park somewhere, and over-crowded conditions lead to considerable inconvenience and potential safety hazards.
Solutions to parking problems
Ok, let me state the obvious. In order to reduce the number of vehicles parking on the street and blocking sidewalks, there must be a net increase in off-street parking.
Short of building an ugly, expensive parking garage, what can an HOA-governed community do to alleviate parking headaches?
Here are three possible common sense solutions:
1. Allow sheds.
OK, I know, I know. Most covenants and restrictions, going back 40 to 50 years, don’t allow backyard sheds. And some people consider them to be an eyesore.
But, times have changed. Today’s storage structures don’t have to look like your grandparents’ shack-like sheds. There are many more attractive shed options, made of durable, low maintenance materials.
If space is an issue, perhaps HOAs can consider allowing a lean-to shed, pushed up against the back wall of the home.
The purpose of a shed is to provide space for residents to store trash cans, bicycles, lawn equipment, tools, and all kinds of recreational gear. The more stuff that can be moved out of the garage, the more room there is for car parking.
2. Encourage garage modifications.
Today’s vehicles are larger than standard 4-door sedans of the 1960s and 1970s. To make room for SUVs, family-sized vans, and pickup trucks, HOAs should consider updating their architectural standards to allow for more space in the garage.
For example, garage bump outs can add a few extra feet to fit longer, wider vehicles. This would eliminate the need to park larger cars and trucks on the driveway, sticking out over the sidewalk.
For some vehicles, a taller garage door is helpful, too. When residents can park their oversize vehicles in a garage, there will be fewer of them on the street. Bonus: no more tall vehicles reducing road visibility for drivers.
3. Offer incentives for residents to park off street.
Too many HOAs use a punitive approach of parking restrictions, ticketing, booting, and towing. These approaches don’t usually solve the problem. More likely, these disincentives just frustrate and inconvenience residents. And sometimes, HOA parking rules can have unintended consequences.
Instead, why not use incentives to encourage residents to park off street?
By allowing shed and larger garage spaces, an HOA can help homeowners increase their property values. After all, home buyers and tenants crave storage space and off-street parking, and they’re often willing to pay more for it.
But maybe your HOA isn’t willing or able to change its restrictions or architectural standards — at least not yet.
If that’s the case, the HOA can find other ways to motivate residents by rewarding them for parking off-street and off-sidewalk.
For example, an HOA might offer an annual fee rebate or discount for residents who agree to park their vehicles in the garage or on their driveway — without blocking the sidewalk.
An HOA could also require residents to purchase an annual parking registration sticker that allows them to park on the street. No registration, no street parking.
This would encourage some owners of standard and smaller vehicles to save money by parking on their own property instead of curbside. (Of course, the effect could be much greater if the HOA also implements solutions 1 and 2 above.)
To help residents make more space in their garage, an HOA could hold periodic neighborhood tag sales or donation drives. In addition to thinning out clutter, these events are great ways to build community, too.
Another way to get rid of unwanted junk from overstuff garages — make arrangements with a local waste management contractor for an annual community haul-away of non-standard trash. That will create instant additional space for many residents.
With a little outside-the-HOA-box thinking, neighborhoods and communities can alleviate parking problems.
Can you think of other good solutions to parking shortages? If so, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. ♦