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Enforcing Vehicle and Parking Restrictions – The “Devil is in the Details”

Posted in Arbitration & Court Rulings, Covenant Enforcement/Violations, Operations

Appellate Court sides with Homeowner in Parking Enforcement Litigation.  Owner Permitted to Park Large Pick-Up Truck in Driveway. Eagles Master Association, Inc. v. Vizzi – link to Summary Judgment Ruling. Interpreting governing documents of condos & HOA is tricky sometimes.  While there is an emphasis on the ‘plain meaning’ of the words – sometimes the exact meaning of the words doesn’t make sense in the context or is otherwise unreasonable for one reason or another.  The Second District Court of Appeal found that the plain meaning of one of the sentences of the Eagles Master Association’s Declaration didn’t make sense on its own.  After considering several factors, it found that the Association’s interpretation of the Declaration was simply unreasonable, inconsistent with other provisions and therefore incorrect.  The result?  Victory for the homeowner after reportedly spending two hundred thousand ($200,000) dollars in legal fees – some or all of which to be reimbursed by the Association. Like any case, this case involved several legal issues.  The homeowner challenged the legitimacy of the Master Association’s board.  There was the issue of whether the Master Association declaration of covenants had priority over the Sub-Association documents in the event of a conflict.  There were amendments to analyze as well. The Master Declaration said (in part) the following: Vehicles and Parking.  No vehicles shall be regularly parked in The Eagles except on a paved driveway or inside a garage.  No trucks or vehicles which are used for commercial purposes, other than those present on business may be parked in The Eagles unless inside a garage and concealed from public view. Pick-up trucks, boats, trailers, campers, vans, motorcycles and other recreational vehicles … shall not be permitted in The Eagles except while loading or unloading the contents thereof or while parked inside a garage and concealed from public view. The Sub-Association Declaration said (in part): Vehicles.  No motor vehicles shall be parked on the Properties except on paved or concrete driveway or in a garage.  No motor vehicles which are primarily used for commercial purposes, other than those present on business, nor any trailers, may be parked on the Properties unless inside a garage and concealed from public view. Boats, trailers, commercial trucks, commercial vans, motorcycles and other recreational vehicles shall be parked inside of garages and concealed from public view. Seem pretty similar, right? The Master Association took the position that its declaration required all pick-up trucks, vans, etc. to park in an enclosed garage (concealed from view), except for short periods of loading and unloading.  This truck was too large to fit inside the garage.  The Court disagreed.  It said:

  1. Interpreting the declaration was a matter of law;
  2. If at all possible, any inconsistent provisions should be reconciled;
  3. All of the terms & provisions should be read together with the goal of making each term meaningful; and
  4. Any doubts must be resolved in favor of the free use of the property (against the party seeking to enforce the restriction).

In the end, the Court found that the better interpretation of both documents lead to the conclusion that while commercial trucks and commercial vans were banned from parking on the driveways unless garaged or there for business purposes, other trucks (including pick-up trucks and SUV’s registered as trucks) used for personal transportation were allowed. Community leaders should analyze the current documents and consult with counsel to ensure that the restrictions and covenants are written in a way that supports the common interpretation.  Remember, any ambiguity is resolved against the person/entity trying to enforce the document.  Thus, review your existing practices and consider amending the documents to create enforceable rules and regulations that fit your community’s goals and residents’ needs.

  • J Gaskin

    ???
    Now if a coop rule says NO TRUCKS yet they permit all types of SUV’s which are trucks
    to Park on the property why should a Pick-up be refused this right. This is an rule not in the papers of incorporation nor the by-laws
    Specifically a Chevy/S10 Compact 4dr model when there are HUGE FORD & CHEVY
    Full SIZE SUV’s longer wider & taller parking in assigned spaces every day. The Vehicle is not restricted in any way in it’s home state of NY and is considered a passenger vehicle, Its bed is just 4 ft long and always empty.
    I know this has been ruled on in other counties in favor of the pick-ups owners. Why has the state not come out against this type of UNREASONABLE RESTRICTION based on
    Antiquated Thinking regarding Pick-up Trucks. They are more a more a Family/Personal vehicle everyday.
    We are talking about North Palm Beach
    RESPONSE: This is one of the reasons the documents must be carefully drafted to serve the association’s needs. Many communities allow full-sized SUV’s while prohibiting pick-up trucks at the same time. They can do so (legally) if the governing documents are written in a specific way. Some communities prohibit all open-bed vehicles and others allow all types of vehicles, so long as there is no commercial lettering.

  • G Katz

    I don’t feel it is accurate to state that SUV’s are trucks. In my opinion a “truck” is a commercial vehicle mostly designed to carry equipment and goods, merchandise, etc., whereas an SUV is designed to carry people. While there may seem to be little difference between “trucks” (pick-ups, panel, etc.) from SUV’s I can see allowing SUV’s in an association and not allowing “trucks” unless they are garaged or temporially on the street.

  • http://www.warmfloridahome.com Slumlord

    I find this fascinating! Thank you so much for publishing this! Our documents state “Trucks, boats, trailers, recreation vehicles, motor homes, motorcycles, golf carts or any other transportable personal property shall not be parked or stored on any Lot, except in a closed garage.” Our board interprets this to mean pickup trucks. Once upon a time, we had a tenant who parked his pickup in the driveway. They decided to fine us 3 years later … when I was running for the board! We’re heading to mediation now. Want a job?? It could be worth $200,000!!!

  • A.J. Vizzi

    I’ll bet you didn’t know that Becker & Poliakoff was the firm the association used to send the demand letter and represent them in the mandatory mediation before they could file this lawsuit. But for some reason, they retained another law firm, Shumaker Loop & Kendrick, to represent them and file the lawsuit against me. Maybe it was because Becker & Poliakoff told them they couldn’t win this lawsuit and they wanted someone they could go to trial with. Who knows? What’s too bad is that they did all they could to run up my fees and cause me to default. They even had their attorney investigate me and my company to see if I was filing for bankruptcy. Then they wouldn’t settle with me because the issue came down to attorney fees which were so high for both parties. Too bad it came down to this and the decisions were being made by a group of people that are self appointed to the board and not elected like it was always suppose to be. But that’s an issue that can be discussed later.

  • Bachelor

    My community association requires proof of residency at my home if an owner’s car is present overnight more than 6 nights/month. Is this legally enforceable? In my case,they are saying that my girlfriend cannot stay over more than 6 nights/month. This is beyond a parking issue. This is exercising control over my personal relationships!
    RESPONSE: Parking restrictions are largely a function of the governing documents.

  • Mitch Eiseman

    Our HOA documents read as follows in a section concerning the parking of trucks needing to be within garages in our community, “for purposes of this section the term “trucks” shall generally be used to describe vehicles manufactured with an open body or bed (including those with a metal or fabric cover”). Our present HOA President has determined that a Toyota Tundra Pickup Truck with a fiberglass cap is permitted to park in the driveway of one of the homes. His rationale, is that it is a modified pickup truck similar to an SUV, and because the cap was installed by a Toyota Dealer before the owner took delivery, it thus avoids the “manufactured with an open bed” classification. By the way, SUV’s are permitted to be parked out of garages, and now many of the truck owners who have parkied in their garages think the selection on one truck vehicle being permitted becuase of the cap, and denying them outside parking is unfair. Your thoughts.
    RESPONSE: While I cannot comment on your specific situation, I can say enforcement must be uniform. There should be a logical distinction between what is permitted and what is prohibited. If there are a number of owners opposed to the board’s interpretation and enforcement of the parking rule, they can require the board to include this item on the next board meeting agenda by obtaining a petition of 20% of the membership.

  • Ivonne

    Can the homeowners association tell you they will only give a maximum of 4 decals to get into the community and not have to make a line to get in pass the gate each time when you own a 5 bedroom house and 6 people with cars live in the house. Two cars park in the garage and the other 5 park in my drive way that fits 6 cars. We do not park on the side walk or the street. They asked us to send in a letter to see if the board would approve it and they denied us. I do not rent rooms or have efficincies, My husband and I are in one room, my daughter that is 20, my son and his fiance that are 21, and my mother. We have 7 cars because each one of us have a car and my husband has a business car.
    RESPONSE: Parking restrictions are different for every community. Many associations limit the number of cars each family may bring or maintain on the property and have rules regarding how many stickers they will authorize. The question is whether those rules were adopted properly and whether they are enforceable.

  • Carol

    Boats parked in shared carports in HOA
    How can a HOA not have a say when a boat is blocking it’s neighbors storage area.
    RESPONSE: HOA use rules (such as parking rules) are either established in the recorded governing documents or by board resolution. Many communities prohibit parking boats on trailers in the parking lot, others designate specific spaces for trailers, motorhomes and the like.
    It would be unusual for an HOA to allow personal property of one person (the boat owner) to block access to use rights of another (blocking the storage closet).

  • melvin spinoza

    I want all HOAs outlawed based on the huge arbitrainess and turmoil they cause people on how to live in their own homes

  • Cece

    Would it be more unusual for an HOA to allow personal property of one person (the boat owner) to block access to use rights of egress and ingress of another (blocking the storage closet.)Being(disabled) and has recently encountered accessibility problems due to this problem and uses a placard for parking outside the carport(AZ)
    Any suggestions.
    RESPONSE: It would be unusual for the association to allow an owner to store personal property in a way that blocks access to a storage unit. Disabled persons may request reasonable accommodations, but it is not clear how that relates to blocking another owner’s access.

  • CHARLES DIAZ

    I LIVE IN A HOME THAT IS GOVERNED BY HOA RULES, IN SOUTH WESTERN PALM BEACH COUNTY. WE HAVE NEIGHBOR WHO IS IN CONSTRUCTION, HE PARKS HIS RIG (A FLAT BED 35 TO 40 FEET LONG) WITH A BOB CAT ON IT, AND SOMETIMES BE PUTS A GARBAGE HAULER TO IT, WHICH MAKES ENVEN LONGER. HE PARKS IT ON THE SWALE BETWEEN THE STREET AN HIS HOME. WE HAVE MADE COMPLAINTS TO CODE ENFORCEMENT, BUT THEY SAY THAT IS BELONGS TO THE SHERIFF DUTIES. AND THE SHERIFF SAYS THAT THIS IS A HOA PROBLEM. THIS IS AN EYE SORE IN OUR COMMUNITY WHICH WE DO NOT NEED. WHO IS RIGHT AND WHERE DO I GO TO GET THIS OFF AND OUT OF OUR COMMUNITY.
    RESPONSE: Start with the HOA – does the HOA have rules against this type of vehicle? Who owns the swale area – is it HOA property? Does the HOA have towing rights? If the property is private property (which is likely), then the Sheriff may be correct, unless the vehicle creates an unreasonable site obstruction (making driving unsafe).

  • Mike

    Our HOA covenants read “No vehicle with commercial markings, pickup truck of any kind, van in excess of 17 feet in length, tractor, trailer, mobile home, camper, motor home, motorcycle or boat shall be kept parked or stored on any road right-of-way, easement, driveway, or on any portion of any lot except within an enclosed garage.” There’s no mention of any occasion on which it’s acceptable.
    I’m on the board. We have about three residents out of over 200 homes, who fairly regularly have a pickup truck in their driveway which drives one resident crazy. He wants fines levied and even to have the vehicles towed. My problem is that the way I read our covenant, no trucks at all are ever allowed in a driveway, not even occasional service, delivery, contractors, whatever. I say this is ridiculous and the covenant is poorly written. Certainly there will be occasions when a service vehicle must be parked in the driveway. But the covenant prohibits all such vehicles all the time, so how can we bring action against only those few homeowners for their personal vechicles while ignoring all the other obvious violations? I want to re-write the covvenant but I’m told it’s too much trouble.
    RESPONSE: Re-writing the covenant is not difficult, but obtaining a vote of the membership may be – depending on whether a vote is required and how many owners need to support the change.
    There are a number of impediments to enforcement of covenants – one factor that may be against you is time. If the trucks have been permitted (or ignored) for a substantial amount of time, the association may be deemed to have waived its right to remove them. Your board should consider clarifying the truck/vehicle rules and then announce the clarification to the membership. Please take a look at the arbitration decisions issued by the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshare and Mobile Homes to see what clarifications or interpretations have been upheld in the past.

  • Mike

    Our community has a covenant that clearly prohibits the presence of any pickup truck in a driveway or lot at any time. Period. It makes no distinction between a personal vehicle and those of commerical or business use. The Board admits that this isn’t the intended statement–that they only want to ban personal pickups during evening hours, but adamately maintains that the Association Attorney has told them that they can “interpret” the covenant any way they please, regardless of what it literally says. They say it’s not necessary to revise the covenant. The few residents who own trucks state that they are victims of selective enforcement and that it’s unfair to target them with fines while ignoring the presence of dozens of commercial/business vehicles on a daily basis. I don’t see how the documents can so clearly say one thing, however unreasonable or unintentional, and the Board of Directors have free rein to enact whatever version of the rule they wish, even in obvious conflict with the written rule. I say change the covenant but the Board says that’s too much trouble. Opinions?
    RESPONSE: There are a number of arbitration decisions interpreting vehicle restrictions. I usually recommend clarifying the rule in the event of ambiguity. Rules need to change over time with changes in the community. Many years ago pick-up trucks weren’t popular for personal transportation purposes. Now many vehicles are built on truck chassis, but considered “cars” or SUVs, not trucks.
    The Division often addresses these distinctions – a 2009 arbitration case allowed a board to consider a Chevy Avalanche a truck, rather than a passenger vehicle.

  • CHARLES DIAZ

    I live in southwestern Palm Beach County in a HOA sub division of some 800 homes.
    We have a neighbor who works in consturcion and has a flatbed rig that hauled by a pick up it over 50 feet in lenth and has a BOB CAT ON THE FLAT BED, HE PARKS THIS IN THE SWALE IN FRONT OF HIS HOME.
    The county code enforcment say they cannot do anything, because the HOA permits this, is this True?
    Also how do I check on who owns the swale area in my subdivision.
    RESPONSE: Property records are available on the internet – you can start with the property appraiser’s website or the public records site.
    If the use does not violate the applicable code then code enforcement doesn’t have jurisdiction. Contact the board or review the governing documents to determine whether the use violates the association’s use restrictions. Its possible that the association does not have authority to regulate parking on private property.

  • Lillian

    I am under contract to purchase a condo in a building with an under-ground parking garage. The HOA’s by-laws has a rule that reads: ” no boats, boat trailers, other trailors, mobile homes, vans, motorcycles or commercial vehicles shall be permitted at the Condominium without the prior written consent of the Board of Directors”. At the last minute, the HOA is refusing to approve me as a resident because we own a Ford F-150 stock pick up truck that is used only for personal purposes. It has no commercial markings at all. This building in in Coral Gables, which as you are probably aware, has a prohibition against parking trucks in public areas from 7:00 pm to 7:00 but does have a a garage exception. I have provided the HOA with numerous definitions (including thr relevant Fla Statute) defining a “commercial vehicle” but we are at an impasse at this moment. Your thoughts?