Question: Our homeowners association has seven units with seven "open guest" unassigned parking spaces for use by association guests. The unassigned spaces are outside the front door of each of seven individual units adjacent to them.
Our bylaws state these unassigned parking spaces are to be utilized on a first-come, first-served basis. Some owners believe the unassigned parking space in front of their unit is theirs alone merely because of its location. That belief sparks incredible havoc and infighting among the seven unit owners. If someone happens to park in a space that's not in front of the unit they are visiting, that car may be vandalized or blocked by another unit owner claiming the spot as their own because it's in front of their unit. Owners who find cars parked in the space in front of their unit have prevented vehicles from parking there, or once parked, prevent the driver from leaving by parking another vehicle directly behind the parked car. Drivers have been threatened that if they park there again, something bad will happen to them or their vehicle.
Is it right to say that each unit is entitled solely to the parking space adjacent their unit? Or does it mean those guest parking spaces are automatically assigned to the one adjacent to a particular unit? If some other unit wants to use a guest parking space, which all seven units share, must they first ask the unit owner for permission to use that guest parking space?
Answer: In the situation described, a unit owner has no authority to grant or deny the parking of any vehicle in any of those seven spaces. Those parking spaces are open, random guest parking that cannot be owned, or claimed, by any unit owner. Anyone visiting the development can park in any of the spaces. The spaces are part and parcel of the common interest development and have been included in the sales of all units as each owner in that CID owns a fractional interest in them, according to Civil Code section 1362.
Legally, each of the separate parking spaces outside those units are "easements" within the CID for use of association owners and visitors. Unless the seven individual unit owners can provide a recorded title for the parking space they claim is theirs, and proof of taxes paid on that parking space, they do not own it, it is not part of their unit and it was not part of the purchase of their unit.
If the governing documents allow for unit owners to rent one of those spaces from the association, he or she must provide an executed lease document that indicates the lessee and lessor names, the association's name, and must unequivocally define the space being leased and its relation to that owner's property address. The lease must state the lease-term period and show the dollar amount being paid. The bylaws provide for common use of these spaces; any grant of exclusive use to a titleholder must also comply with the covenants, conditions and restrictions and provisions of Civil Code section 1363.07. If all those elements are met, the physical space must be clearly marked so others can identify it as belonging to that unit alone and to prevent guests from parking there.
Pursuant to Civil Code section 1361, "there are appurtenant to each separate interest nonexclusive rights of ingress, egress … if necessary, through the common areas. The common areas are subject to these rights." Preventing ingress and egress once a vehicle parks in one of those spaces could lead to charges filed against the person intentionally blocking the vehicle. Depending on the circumstances, the person responsible for the threats and blockage could be charged with the criminal offense of false imprisonment. While normally a misdemeanor under Penal Code section 236, the use of "threats of unlawful injury" may warrant a felony charge.
Failure to take action against owners trying to block access to common-use parking spaces could cost the association should the board be sued or injury results.
Zachary Levine, partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.