Dear PoPville – Parking Spot Etiquette

Photo by PoPville flickr user W_Bram

“Dear PoPville,

I have a question regarding parking spot etiquette. I have a parking spot in the alley behind my house. I don’t have a car. While I don’t use the spot regularly, I do use it a few days every month for my zipcar, rental car, or guest’s vehicles.

As a result of not regularly having a car in the spot folks think its cool to park there. While this usually isn’t a problem, sometimes it can be quite terrible. Last night, for example, I came back from a trip to the beach and had to wait in the alley for 20 min until someone came out to move their car out of my spot. This isn’t the first time this has happened.

What is the correct protocol here? Should I post signs threatening to tow people? Should I call the towing company when I see this behavior? Should I call the cops? I don’t want to be a bad neighbor and when other neighbors have asked me, I always let them use the spot. What would others do in this situation?”

89 Comment

  • Post a sign. You could put an orange cone in the spot as well for those days that you will need the spot but chances are someone would just run off with the cone.

  • Post a big, clear sign that the parking spot is reserved and tow any car that parks there after the sign is posted.

  • if its your spot, i would not let anyone park there. they will start to think that they are entitled to it.

  • This is sometimes a problem with my alley spot. I’ve called the cops to write a ticket a couple of times (they need a ticket before you can have them towed), but that takes FOREVER. Now I just block them in until I feel like going outside again. But that might not work if your alley is narrow.

    • You should be very careful about blocking someone into a parking space, even if it’s yours, and on private property. I used to rent a tandem space (a double-length space that has room for two cars, one behind the other) in the lot behind my apartment building in Adams Morgan. I came home late one night to find a mystery car in the space. When there was no street space to be found, I went back and parked behind them and went to bed, figuring they’d learn a lesson and I’d move my car first thing in the morning. Around 4am I was woken up by the building management. The people illegally parked in my space had called the police upon their return, and the policeman said I had 5 minutes to come outside and move my car so they could leave or I would be ticketed or arrested for “unlawful detention” or something like that. (I may not have the term right.) I’d never heard of it before, and it was no joke. There was a huge scene, and I was the sole villain as far as the policeman was concerned.

      • you didn’t park in just any body.
        you parked in someone important.

      • Huh that’s interesting. Still, I’d be smiling when I walked out at 4 a.m. because they clearly had to wait a while for the police to arrive and to figure out my contact info. Bet they won’t do it again.

      • My landlord did this once– he blocked someone on who illegally parked in his space in Adams Morgan. He heard them yelling at 3am and moved his car. They left, drove around the block, came back and threw a brick through his window.

  • If there is a car on your private property that you own, you should call a tow truck and then post a sign. (I wish somebody would…)

  • Sounds ‘quite terrible.’

  • This happened to me after I bought my house but hadn’t actually moved in yet.

    I called the cops and they came and put a ticket on the offending vehicle. They recommended that if it hadn’t been moved by (if I remember correctly) the next morning, I call a towing company to get it towed.

    My solution was to get the broken fence fixed so that I could fence off the space.

    Your needs sound somewhat different, since you’re planning to use the space only on an irregular basis. Not having it when you want it is a pain, though… I’d consider getting a cheap fence.

  • Wait, you’ve told people they could use the spot, but now that they did, you’re mad that its not available when you want it?

    • I think the OP has given them permission to use it for a defined period of time, not to have carte blanche to use the space.

  • Since you use it so infrequently, depending on your location, maybe you should just rent it out and deal with street parking the few times you need to. You can get some good extra cash. 200 a month in the Dupont / Logan area. Aside from that, yes, put up signs and enforce to the extent you can.

  • Rent the space out.

    • +1. seems like a luxury I’d rather give up in favor of $200+/mo for the spot.

      • Agreed. It’s *almost* selfish to just sit on a parking spot like that when there are so many that genuinely need a spot (and would pay for it). Otherwise, people will likely continue to occasionally use the spot when they see it open for long periods of time.

        • selfish?


        • This is why we can’t have nice things. Because people think they are entitled to use what is not theirs and Popsters will support them for it.

          I am having some friends over to BBQ this weekend, and I am going to walk into my neighbors yard and fire up his grill. After all, I haven’t seen him use his grill since July, so I can occasionally use his grill and yard without his permission… right? He;s almost selfish if he objects, right?

  • I recommend that you post a sign, and then leave extremely passive aggressive notes if they continue to park there.

  • Post then tow. Take no mercy.

  • I have this problem with Howard students all the time. I have tried everything (signs, cones, trash cans, etc.) and they don’t seem to care. I will come home from work and there will be an obvious student car parked on my parking pad. I always get the same response “oh I thought this was public parking.” Since when does the District provide free parking spaces in alleys that are first-come first served?

    The cops tell me I have to call them, wait for an officer to come ticket the car, and then after a period of time I can tow it.

    I know that college students are generally arrogantly young and invincible, but it’s usually the same people over and over. Youth is not an excuse.

    So I say park behind them and block them in. When they have to wait several hours for you to get around to moving your car, they will learn.

    • Same car again and again? I’d definitely be letting all the air out of their tires. and then have them ticketed and towed.

  • How many times do we have to go down this road? I’m not gratuitously picking on the OP, but why is the first reaction to post signs threatening to tow? How about a nice “please no parking”-type sign?

    Have a neighborly chat with the people who live around you. If you approach them like people and not antagonists, they (the regular ones, not the jerks who are going to do what they want anyway) will respect you and not park there. And if not, then you can move on to the “tow away zone”-type sign.

    I know, I know, he/she is *asking* what to do, but it’s very telling that the first thing out of his/her keyboard is threatening to tow.

    • Because the OP didn’t say that it was a neighbor parking there each time. The OP said, “people” park there. Since “people” could be anyone and everyone, you can’t expect to speak to each one.

      • Well, I would expect that the likely culprits live nearby, therefore, by definition, are neighbors. Or people visiting the neighbors. It’s a place to start, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

        • So, neighbors use something they KNOW does not belong to them and the OP should be the nice one?

          Whose not treating who with respect?

          The place to start is with the neighbors ASKING before using what is not theirs to use. Not to feel they are entitled to TAKE whatever they feel like taking when they fell like taking it.

          The correct protocal is to:
          a) Put up a sign
          b) get a fance or parking saver ala above installed.
          c) ticket and tow as often as is needed until people learn you will not be used for their convenience
          d) If you feel like being a kinldy person: talk to a few choice neighbors and let them know that – when they have your permission – they can use your spot, and that permission is for ONE TIME use, not as often as they choose.

          • and to learn to spell check before posting.

          • “So, neighbors use something they KNOW does not belong to them and the OP should be the nice one?”

            Short answer is ‘yes’. At least to begin with.

            I agree with you completely. People shouldn’t take stuff that’s not theirs or assume that it belongs to them if nothing is preventing them.

            The fact is, they do. And it’s rude. And it makes people mad.

            My point is that sometimes you have to be the bigger person, even if you’re the one being taken advantage of. Corny as it is to say, you *do* get more flies with honey than vinegar. Or threats of towing.

            Start with nice, is all I’m saying. If that fails, then move on up the line of escalating response if you need to. Or get a fence. Or do something else.

      • What do you mean, “people”!?!?!?!?!

    • The OP should not have to go door-to-door in his/her neighborhood to ask people not to park in the space. If one neighbor is parking there, then a chat might do the trick. But if it’s several different drivers, then the OP has little choice but to post a clear sign and tow those who don’t comply, or block them in. After all, it’s not very “neighborly” to take someone’s parking spot.

      • Agreed.

        I suspect TaylorStreetMan is coming from a perspective where maybe he know most of his neighbors.

        For anyone who lives on a block where there are a lot of renters (and thus more turnover), and/or where there are group houses, trying to meet with all the neighbors who might be using the space could be very, very time-consuming.

        • That’s a fair point. I do know most of my neighbors, so it wouldn’t be as big a deal to visit a few of them.

          But really, again, my point is to start with nice: a sign that asks people to not park there (“Private Parking”). If the problem persists, then go with the towing.

          • +1, but quickily move to signs and towing if it happens after the chats have been done… Starting nice is the way to go!

    • Because if it doesn’t say that you will be towed if you park without permission, the tow company can’t take the car. There has to be a clear, public, visible warning. So just a “please no parking” sign cuts off your only recourse for someone who does it anyway.

  • How about posting a sign that says “NO PARKING” with smaller lettering underneath listing your phone number and saying that parking may be available if folks call and ask permission but if someone is parked without permission, they will be ticketed and towed? Seems like the best of both worlds – you can let folks park there, but if you need the spot, you can say so.

    • or you get lots of annoying folks calling you at all hours. I wouldn’t post my phone number in public.

    • Ridiculous. You really want to post your phone number on a sign for random strangers to call you at any time? This crosses the line from neighborly into pushover.

      Moreover, the OP assumes a liability if he allows random strangers to park on his property. He’d have to be a fool.

    • I agree that this is an invitation to be a full-time, on-call pushover. Potentially worse.

  • I like the nice approach – but if people keep doing it that may not be the way to go.
    Other options:
    1) Fill up small metal trashcan with cement and then chain it to the car with a padlock. They can then wait till you are ready and home to unlock it.
    2)Put a no parking sticker on the drivers window – on that is tough to get off.
    3) Wedge a fish by the air intake.

    • austindc

      I agree that the nice approach and a sign could be the best way to go. Maybe just string up a chain across the entrance to your spot that you can lock and unlock. But yes, if things get really out of hand, you should immediately fill their car with hundreds of snakes.

  • I’ve used my old pickup truck to ram cars out of my yard when they’ve parked there before. Seriously – it’s a yard. Did that 2-3 Sundays in a row, and the expensive Maryland-plated cars gave the spray-painted truck and crazy white guy wide bearth.

  • If possible, use a chain with a lock to block the spot when you are not using it.

    • I like the chain, and perhaps add two or three large heavy things (logs, small trash cans w/ cement, etc). I think that folks looking to park in ambiguous spaces are looking for convenience and won’t want to have to move a bunch of stuff out of the way. There is a parking lot in Alexandria that uses this tactic and always seems to be free of cars (why, I have no idea…).

  • One time someone was parking in my spot. So I called up a local nursery and had them deliver a whole load of fertilizer. The nursery was there in an hour and it was dumped behind their vehicle (but clearly still legally on my property and not in the alley). When they complained, I showed them a shovel and told them they had two choices: drive over it or move it inside the fence.

    They chose to try to drive over it. I bet their car still smells like cow [email protected] I was kind of hoping they would have done the yard work for me. But either choice would have taught them a lesson.

  • slash their tires.

  • Since it sounds like you don’t generally mind other people using your spot unless you need it, why not post a sign that has your number or something. That way people can ask to use your space, and you hopefully won’t be left spotless when you actually need it.

    I have a couple of spots behind my apartment that do not belong to me, but are regularly empty. Every so often, I’ll use one of the spots to load or unload my car for a trip (I know, I’m a terrible person). I always feel guilty, even if its just for a minute. If given the opportunity, I would definitely call/text to ask permission to park there.

    Considering you never use it, why not help a neighbor out and let them use your spot for short term parking?

  • You spot! Call the hook!

  • Nonsense. Let people know they cannot use it any longer, then put up a fence or a chain; ticket or tow them.

    What, I’m going to let some neighbor use my extra bedroom because I am not using it? This is a city where condo parking goes for thousands of dollars on top of the cost of the unit. It’s your property. If you allow people to use it, they will slowly feel entitled to use it, and these things never end well.

    If another earthquake hits and bricks from your house (or a tree limb from a storm, or whatever) fall on their car in your spot, who’s paying for that? I guarantee the nice neighbors will file against you for repair costs.

  • 1) Post a sign, “No Parking, Will Tow”.
    2) Call 911 to have officers ticket the car.
    3) Call District Towing. They’re open 24 hours, and they love to make money.

    Generally, I’ll make an effort to figure out who the offender is, but if they’re making me late for an appointment that will — if I’m late — damage a client relationship, I call after 2 minutes or so.

    The whole process generally takes me between 20 and 45 minutes.

  • I once had a parking space off of NH Ave south of U Street and posted a large sign that said “No Parking. Towing Enforced.” People would still park in it all the time and I would have them towed all the time. While there weren’t any repeat offenders, I’m not sure the towing actually discouraged “new” people from parking in my spot.

    One time a person who had been towed had the nerve to show up at my condo the next day and tell me he would sue me for damage the tow truck did to his Jaguar.

  • Sign + Caltrops.

  • I suggest posting a “Private Parking. Violators will be ticketed and towed.” rather than a “No Parking” sign. If you do not use a regular car (different zip cars, different visitors) then folks may just consider your temporary car an offender that did not get ticketed/towed and so why would theirs.

  • Our next door neighbor has a tiny sliver of land just behind his fenced-in driveway. most cars wouldn’t fit. Someone managed to squeeze in their car and blocked his ability to leave. It also kept the neighbor across the alley from being able to pull out of his garage.

    Next-door neighbor called 311 and no one responded for three hours. Alley neighbor called 911 and a cop was there within 20 minutes to ticket. A tow company showed up within an hour. Moral of story: always call 911 in cases like this even if it’s a non-emergency parking situation.

  • Why do the cops need to ticket first if it’s on private property? Seems to be an unnecessary step.

    (I realize, apparently, that it’s the law. Just asking *why* it needs to be this way.)

    • In theory, I think they’re supposed to verify that you’re the rightful owner of the property. In practice, it’s a needless obstacle.

  • I’ve been dealing with this problem of parking scofflaws that think they can park freely on someone else’s private property for more than 30 years now. It’s gotten worse as our neighborhood of Adams Morgan has become more popular.

    The topic nobody has written about here is the very low deterrence that a $25 ticket is for the violator parking on private property.

    To answer the question, the procedure is to have a sign posted, find a policeman to ticket the violator’s vehicle first, and then, and only then, to call a towing company to tow it away.

    There are practical and time consuming obstacles to enforcing the law on your private property.

    When you do call, your call is not a priority for MPD police who are dispatched on more urgent matters.

    Also, and very often, the time between the ticketing and the tow truck arriving can be long, and the scofflaw will often move off and away before the towing can take place.

    -Always excusing themselves with the usual I didn’t know, or it was only for a few minutes, without any consideration to the sign posted or why is it that the rightful user of the space should have to spend so much wasted time finding the scofflaw that does this in the first place.

    I haven’t even a car myself, but have devoted hours and hours to this over the years, particularly on weekends, trying to help my tenants to just having simple access to their paid parking and with helping my other Champlain Street neighbors to cope as well.

    The $25 ticket for this infraction is no deterrence and has not changed in more than 30 years that I know of. It should be raised and significantly more.

    I have written Councilman Graham on this subject twice, but the situation remains the same.

    It is very frustrating. This is a good post to bring awareness to this situation and so I write here.

    • 30 years??? You haven’t figured out how to hang an effective sign, put up an obstruction or at least smear the offending windshield with crisco for 30 years???

      • Did you see where this person wrote that he doesn’t have his own car? It doesn’t sound like he’s talking about one specific parking space that’s being offended, but rather the greater problem of people parking where they have no right to be, which is certainly something I can see continuing for over 30 years across the city and within a particular neighborhood. It’s not his job to smear Crisco on every car that parks illegally, but I do support his efforts to look for a greater city-wide solution for a problem like this.

      • victoria,

        That would be vandalism of someone else’s property and sadly invites escalated retaliation in today’s world in our nation’s capital.

        Over the years, my signs have been painted over, and sometimes even removed.

        I replace them.

        I have erected parking barriers only to have them run over, even disappear extracted from the pavement.

        I’ve erected concrete posts on my properties recessed from the alley and hung chains, only to have the chains cut repeatedly.

        I’m well into my fourth decade of being a patient landlord on Champlain Street and have endured much worse in my attempts to bring law and order to our 18th and Columbia Road neighborhood of what today we call Adams Morgan.

        No, victoria, I can’t vandalize these scofflaws’ personal property despite their driving it unto my property, but these scofflaws can vandalize my real property and deny my tenants access to their parking spaces, violating common courtesy and decency, and the law as well. And they get away with it easily, time and again.

        This is small potatoes. The riots of 1968, there was a challenge.

        Oh, and they weren’t “disturbances” as the revisionists like to call them; they were riots and some of us survived, able to write as I do now.

        Seriously, we need to raise the $25 fine so that there’s a real deterrence not to repeat this offense which alters the normal life of the law abiding.

        Again, I haven’t a car in Washington. I’m a lifelong rider on the 42 Bus and the Metro Subway since the late 1970’s, but I empathize with the plight of my tenants and neighbors who are coming home after a long day at work and just want to get to their home without the delay and hassle of all this, and so I write here on this overlooked topic early on this Wednesday morning.

        It’s life in the city today, and unfortunately we now have a high tolerance for much lawlessness and sub human behavior. Sadly, it now comes with the territory.

        While others whine and talk and talk and talk and talk, or tap onto key boards so easily as I am doing now, some of us do work positively, constructively, regularly and within the law, endure our share of hardships, contribute, pay our taxes, and in my case with much personal sacrifice.

        (In response to nathaniel who writes here also, parking in a snow emergency route will bring a $250 fine, unauthorized on private property is still $25.)

        • Victoria – see what happens when you’re snide? Feel a little foolish now?

        • ” some of us survived”

          all but 12 people.

        • Thanks, Carlos, for trying to be a positive force in the neighborhood.

          Victoria – like the old saying goes “two wrongs don’t make a right.” I, for one, am proud that as an Adams Morgan resident there are folks like Carlos who believe in following the law and not taking matters into their own hands.

          • Not being snide at all – that was actually a very sraightforward declaration that I think it is ridiculous to go on for 9 paragraphs about a 30 year inability to control illegal parking on one’s private property.

    • I actually think that ticket has increased in the last year or so from 25 to 250.

  • An application of dog poop hidden under the driver’s door handle is the neighborly thing to do.

  • You can purchase a set of “go jacks”! Then when an offending vehicle is in your spot, you can just put the go jacks under the wheels and then push their car in the alley! Then you got your space back!

  • why is it that if i park at the autozone on h street after hours i’ll get towed, but as a property owner i can’t have another car towed

  • so if i park in a private parking lot but either stay longer than I’ve paid, or park illegally or whatever, does that private lot operator also have to call the cops to have me ticketed first before I can be towed.

    Really seems like a broken system. The tow operators should be responsible for verification of address/owner of the property, and then tow. Maybe you’d have them fill out a tow report documenting this info and have it submitted to MPD/DMV for archiving.

  • andy

    just leave a big rock in the parking space and paint your house number on it.

  • Get a boot and put it on their car. When they come back, charge them to remove it.

  • Agreed – blocking it in with your own car only leads to risk of vandalism of your car (after all, they now know where you park it at night, and possibly where you live)

    To get around that problem, a friend in NYC who has had this kind of problem with a rarely used parking space went on ebay, found a handful of automotive “boots” like the ones the parking enforcement uses, and started booting cars that parked in his spot and just leaving the boots there with a sign that said sometime in the next couple of hours (or days), when he felt they’d learned a lesson about taking someone’s (obviously) private spot, he’d leave a key on the windshield.

    He only spent about $50 on each boot (whereas it’d cost someone a couple hundred to get a locksmith to take it off), and half the time they left them behind. Probably wasn’t even close to legal, but it sure was effective (and hilarious to watch when someone called out parking enforcement and they said “that ain’t ours, so we can’t get that off!”).

    • Hilarious, though I would be afraid of getting my car destroyed when it does go back into its spot.

      I live in a condo building with assigned spots. Many residents have regular problems with random people visiting friends and parking in empty spots. It’s worst when you’re out of town for a few days – people assume the spot is free after 2-3 days and let their friends park there.

      Anyway, the building has a towing company they call regularly (after you have the car ticketed). Doesn’t seem to dissuade people much.

      I’ve always wanted to jack the car up on sturdy dolleys and wheel it out. This would likely take a couple of hours, though, and I’d be likely to break something or my back….

  • You wait until the car is parked in your driveway, THEN you build the fence. free car!

  • Get go jack
    Move car in front of fire hydrant
    Call police

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