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From the Forum – Alleyway Parking/Who “Owns” the Alleyways?

by Prince Of Petworth December 23, 2015 at 2:05 pm 34 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Joseph Leonardo

Alleyway Parking/Who “Owns” the Alleyways?

“My house in Shaw backs up to an alley, and then an apartment complex. They have a small parking lot, but apparently have too many cars and not enough spots, so they have created a parallel-type parking spot directly behind our backyard/parking area in the alleyway. This prevents us from using our own parking spot/backyard and also blocks in our car if it’s parked but we cannot get out. They are technically not blocking the alleyway, as other cars could squeeze by, but as it’s right behind us, we don’t have enough room to swing in and out.

When I reached out to them to complain, they said the alleyway is their property and that they won’t be moving this “new” spot.

I’m new to the DC parking scene – can I call the 311 ticketing number the next time it happens, or are they correct in that the alleyway is part of their property? Who owns/is responsible for the alleyways and side streets? It’s a large alleyway that connects all the way around to the main street, and multiple restaurants/bars use it for load in/out as well so it seems strange that it would be part of their property.

Any insight would be great!”

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  • neighbor

    Check your plat. On some alleys they entire alley is city space. On some alleys a portion of what appears to be alley is actually private space.
    You could also try just calling parking enforcement at DPW. No idea if you’d have any luck.

  • JS

    Sound like you need to get a surveyor to figure out where the actual lot lines are. If they took public right of way to make a private spot, that seems like something the city would be interested in taking care of via fines.

  • jim

    The alley is public property, just like the street, and unless a private property owner has a public space permit from DDOT, they are not allowed to use the alley for themselves. You can call 311 or 911 to ask for the vehicles to be ticketed. You can access maps depicting property lines from the DC zoning website and a few others just to be certain, but usually the boundaries of the alley and private property are apparent.

    • petworther

      That’s a little misleading. In many DC alleys a portion of what looks like “the alley” is actually part of the individual lots. Definitely check the property lines. The DC zoning website is not sufficiently accurate for the type of question asked here.

      • PworthRez

        How could any part of an alley be privately owned? That makes no sense, particularly from a public-safety point of view.

        • Anon

          It could easily happen if lots were subdivided in a certain way and the city then constructed the alley in such a way that it created a de facto easement. That’s how I own about 11′ in front of my row house even though my front door abuts the sidewalk. It’s not like I can do anything with it — if I tried to fence it off the city would have me in court in about 5 minutes arguing that they’ve had an easement on that strip of land since the sidewalk was built (sometime after 1875, when my house was built). And I think that’s key with OP’s situation. If the city constructed the alley a long time ago then they might have a de facto easement and even though the apartment complex might technically own the land the citizens of DC might have the right to traverse it.

  • andie302

    I’m not sure what your recourse is with the city – but if you put up a sign that says something to the effect of “Do not block driveway – violators will be towed” that may discourage people in the interim from using the spot. I’m not sure if you could actually get them towed, but the threat may be enough.

  • Paul H

    One key purpose of alleys is to allow fire truck access, if it’s just wide enough to drive a small car through it’s unlikely a fire vehicle could. Definitely call 311 regularly, also contact your anc rep and council person if the signage is unclear.

  • shaw

    Without knowing exactly which alley you are talking about, I can tell you this – if the spot in question is beyond the property line (and it sounds like it is), then it’s public space and they may not commandeer it for private use. If it’s one vehicle that is usually parking there, call the police (311 will just send out 911 anyway) and ask the officer to ticket the car. Do it several times. They’ll get the message.
    You can cite DC Code 2405.3, which reads: “No person shall park a motor vehicle or trailer, whether occupied or not, otherwise than temporarily for the purpose of and while actually engaged in loading or unloading of passengers or freight in any of the following places: Subsection E: In any public alley; provided, that parking shall be permitted in a public alley where authorized by a public space permit or where designated by posted sign;”. The full regs are available here: http://dpw.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dpw/publication/attachments/DC_Parking_Regulations_2405.pdf – you may want to print them out and put them on the windshield of the car in question and also give a copy to the apartment complex.
    I’ll second the other commenter above, too, who said to get a “do not block driveway, violators towed” sign.

    • Clarifying resident

      Please refer to dcregs.dc.gov and navigate to Title 18, chapter 24, section 2405 for latest language. DPW doesn’t always update their content to match the latest regulations.

      Also Google atlas plus DC to see online property line maps and alley ownership.

  • Anonymous

    First, check the plat lines. If you’re in the right, print out the plat maps as evidence.
    The next time it happens, call 911. Yes, call 911 – they are used for anything that requires the police, even non-emergencies. Ask them to send an MPD officer to your address as there is a car blocking your driveway and you can’t get out. Tell a small lie and say that the car has been there for multiple hours.
    When the officer comes, show them the car. Show them the plat maps you’ve printed up and request that they ticket the car. Once the ticket is issued, ask the police to contact a DPW tow truck driver. The police may initially try to put that responsibility on you, but insist that the officer calls. The tow driver will be much more responsive if it’s the MPD officer.
    Do not do this on a Sunday. The DPW tow drivers are not working and the MPD will have a skeleton crew. They probably won’t even come to ticket the car, since they will assume it’s a church parishioner and they have the political clout to park anywhere.

    • Tony

      Calling 911 for “non-emergencies” is not appropriate at all.

      • mike

        actually, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. i had someone blocking my driveway and called 311. 311 told me to hang up and call 911. when i called 911, the dispatch acted like this was completely normal

      • NorthbyNE

        You must be new to town…911 is for emergency and non-emergency police requests. The office of unified communications transferred all police requests to 911 in 2008.

      • Anon17

        Incorrect. 911 is for all police business in DC.

      • Amber

        Piling on with the others: 911 is the correct call, and calling other numbers will just result in you being transferred to 911. (Two weeks ago I found a purse in the alley behind my house, it was empty, but had keys attached. I live in a rough-ish neighborhood, and everything about this said “Mugging. They took the good stuff and ditched the purse.” Because no one throws out a keyring with 45 keys on it. (No joke, it was like a janitor’s key ring. But on a clippy fob that attached to the purse.) So I called the desk of my local precinct to say “hey, found this purse, and if I were mugged and could get my keys (for work, for friends houses, etc) back, I’d want it, so were there any mugging with a red purse?” And they said “Hold on, let me transfer you to dispatch.” At which point I got “911, what is your emergency?” And I prefaced with the fact that it was not an emergency at all. But, they dispatched an officer who showed up and said “Yup, I know this case, thanks!”

        (Incidentally, if anyone out there was separated from their large red purse around with a MASSIVE key ring that had a “Chrome” store logo on it and you didn’t get a call about your case; head over to the 5th district precinct on West Virginia Ave NE.)

      • JoDa

        To add to the others something directly related, I called 311 about a car parked blocking the sidewalk a couple weeks ago. They transferred me to 911 and I saw MPD writing the ticket when I took my dog out for a walk about 15 minutes later.

    • It’s just me

      The problem is they don’t come even on non-Sundays. After surgery, I wasn’t allowed to take public transportation, so needed to drive everywhere. My neighbors were doing work on their house and their workmen parked in the alley right in front of my car. I never could get the police to come. I was trapped in my house my entire sick leave and had to uber to my doctor’s follow up appointments. And my neighbors just said that this is what people do in DC, so I should just suck it up.

      • anon

        call towing company rather than police — they’ll happily tow illegally parked cars and let the transgressors sort it out.

        • I believe the car has to be ticketed before a private towing company will tow it.

        • Anonymous

          Not in DC. The law is very explicit that the car needs to be ticketed prior to towing. Tow companies can be fined for towing an un-ticketed car. It’s quite serious.
          Unlike Nova, that’s why you don’t see the towing scams here in DC.

  • DRC

    I have no sympathy for anyone that parks a car wherever they like and blocks others’ access to roads/alleys/driveways/parking spots. Especially when you say something to them and they claim “it’s my right” or just generally don’t give a damn. Definitely do whatever you can to tow the car.

  • Dcrat

    First check the plat. Even if they are on their property, you may have some recourse but it is very fact dependent.

    • Duponter

      I was going to just note that even if they are right that the plat shows it is their property, depending on how long you have been there and how that space has been used in the past, you yourself might have an easement right to cross it to enter and exit your own property. If the spot has not been used for parking for years and your predecessors at your property have used it to enter/exit your property, your right to an easement may be implied there and legally they cannot interfere with it.

  • Mt.PP

    This happened to me a few years ago…a car kept parking on the other side of the alley, directly behind my parking spot. If it is private property, I believe that as long as there’s a 6-foot wide space to get through the alley, then they can park there. It may be tight for you to get out, but no one was willing to do anything for me since technically six feet is all I need to get my car out.

  • Manamana

    Off topic, but only slightly: what about restaurants that place dumpsters, oil receptacles, and other storage containers in public alleys? Do they typically have DDOT permits? Some of them seem to take up an unreasonable amount of public space for their operations.

    • bogfrog

      What about the fellows who spend all day, every day, sitting in the alleys? One sleeps there in the alley, while the others sleep on the porch of a local resident (she’s not a homeowner) or go elsewhere at night & return next morning.

  • Steve

    While the exact rear lot lines of alley properties in DC may not always be clear and we don’t know where this is, it doesn’t sound like this is their property. I guess I would get the plat and find out for sure. There are some irregularities in these boundaries, but it sounds like they have appropriated this space.

    If you find out that it is public property, I would suggest that you inform whoever told you that it was theirs. Make sure that you have a name of the person you are speaking with, and tell them that you would like to have the police come by to clarify the law for them. If they don’t get the picture I would suggest that you call 911 (yes 911) so they can come out and educate them. Pick a down time to do this – it’s amazing how quickly the police can come when it’s not Friday night.

    But frankly, if they are In fact parking in the alley and telling you that it’s theirs, they are probably jerks who will show themselves to be slow learners.

  • JohnWashDC

    I live behind West Elm on 14th Street, NW. Have a devil of a time getting car out of my parking space into alley. I call 911 every time I cannot get out. They are more than happy to ticket. As for the garbage cans, I have to move those back to the business they belong to. Sometimes they happen to block their back door. – Just like their illegally parked vehicles block my alley access. A wee bit petty, but after 3 years, one would think they’d learn.

    • [rrrrr]

      Are the trash cans being left out by the business or by the garbage men? I know I’m always careful to leave ours tight to the gate, but when i get home they are often strewn further out.

  • Anon

    Definitely agree on checking your plat at the surveyor’s office – you can also do a preliminary check using the DC zoning map (http://maps.dcoz.dc.gov/), but you will want to verify it with the city surveyor’s plat. Also, check your closing documents, and if you have a building location survey, that can be incredibly helpful too. Even if the alley is owned by the apartment complex, the fact that it backs up to your parking space may mean that they sold an easement over the alley to a previous owner / group of owners. This would allow you access to the alley for parking your own vehicle, meaning that they would not be able to block your space (it would very likely say this on the private building survey, but not necessarily on the plat from the city). Good luck!

  • DCDenizen
  • newenglanderindc

    Assuming that you have used that alley for a period of time, you already have an easement. I am not a lawyer, but there was a recent case that describes an extremely similar situation:



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