When Visitor Parking is a Scarce Resource

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When Visitor Parking is a Scarce Resource

This article was first published in Condo Business on Tuesday,December 8,2015.

Many condos offer visitor parking as an amenity, but managing it can become a major headache for the board and management. The source of the headaches could be that there aren’t enough spots, figuring out how to fairly allocate spots, preventing the abuse of spots, or all of the above.

What follows are three steps to taking control of visitor parking problems — whether a condo is starting from scratch or wants to tweak existing rules. The advice here summarizes best practices observed at hundreds of condos throughout the GTA.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is probably obvious, but the board needs to decide what problem it’s solving. Two of the most common problems are: fairly allocating a small number of spaces between a large number of units and preventing the unauthorized use of the visitor parking area by owners, residents and strangers.

2. Choose a solution (i.e. develop rules)

Once the board has clearly identified the problem, the next step is for it to choose a solution. The solution usually takes the form of one or more rules or bylaws that set limits on the use of visitor parking.

When developing rules, consider these common questions:

What times of day will visitor parking enforcement occur?
Visitor parking may be enforced 24/7, or it may be enforced only at night, depending on the needs of the building. Also consider: How many spots are there? Is the building in a high-traffic area that makes it prone to strangers parking without registering? Does management use many of the spots for trades or contractors?

How many visitor parking permits will residents be allowed?
Many condos set limits on visitor parking permits on a per-month basis. For example, residents may be allowed seven overnight permits in a month; if they exceed this limit, then they must wait until the start of the next month to use visitor parking again. If enforcement is 24/7, the board may decide to set separate limits for day and night passes.

When will visitor parking permits expire?
There are two approaches to this: some condos prefer to issue permits that are valid for 24 hours at a time (or multiples of 24 hours); others prefer to issue permits that expire at a specific time every day. For example, some buildings have day passes that expire at midnight and overnight passes that expire at 11 a.m. the next day. If using the latter approach, schedule enforcement patrols to coincide with the expiration times.

Will there be limits to using visitor parking permits across consecutive days?
Some condos implement a maximum number of days per permit. For example, residents may be allowed to use visitor parking seven overnights in a month, but they may be restricted to using no more than three of them in a row.

What guidelines will management use to handle exceptions?
For every rule (no matter how carefully constructed), there will always be special cases that warrant exceptions. Create clear guidelines for management to follow; under what circumstances can management bend the rules? For example, managers commonly receive requests for an extended visitor parking permit when a relative is visiting from out of town.

Who will be in charge of visitor parking enforcement?
For buildings that have on-site security, the answer to this one is easy. For buildings that do not have on-site staff 24/7, the answer is a bit more complicated. In the latter case, the board may need to contract with an enforcement company that offers spot checks or roaming patrols. In either case, parking enforcement needs to be prepared to write tickets or work with towing companies as needed.

What systems or tools will be used to enforce visitor parking?
Condo corporations now have their choice between manual tools, such as a binder or spreadsheet, and online platforms that facilitate the tracking of visitor parking. Using a tool built specifically for the purpose of enforcing visitor parking makes the job easier, faster and more efficient for everyone involved. It may also offer added benefits, such as printed parking permits (as opposed to handwritten), automatic blocking of resident license plates, and more.

Avoid the temptation to make rules overly complicated or to include too many exceptions. To get the full benefits of automation (as outlined in the last point), rules should be straightforward enough to be carried out by a computer. A robust platform can easily carry out the common rules cited above.

3. Carry out rules and enforcement procedures

Once the board and management have agreed on the rules, they should consider gathering feedback from owners before pushing ahead with any changes. Taking the time to complete this step reduces the risk of a challenge (in the case of a rule) or a failed vote (in the case of a bylaw). An online survey is a fast and easy way to gather everyone’s feedback.

After reviewing and responding to feedback from owners, the next step for the board is to work with the corporation’s solicitor to draft the rules or bylaw changes required to carry out the plan. The exact form this takes will depend on the corporation’s existing documents; the corporation’s lawyer will guide the board through that part of the process.

Once the bylaw or rule change takes effect, management must roll out enforcement procedures and the system to support them. This phase requires close coordination with the on-site security team. If the board has decided to use an online system or another tool to help enforce parking, then management needs to coordinate its installation and ensure the entire security team is trained on how to use it.

Once last piece of advice for this step: management can avoid unpleasant surprises by phasing in enforcement. While it will never be easy to transition from a “wild west” scenario to tightly managed visitor parking, clearly communicating the coming changes and giving adequate transition time will give everyone a chance to prepare.

To recap, visitor parking can often be a large headache, but it doesn’t have to be. By following these three key steps, condo boards and their management teams can rein in visitor parking abuses. When visitor parking is tightly enforced, all residents get a fair shot at using it.