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“Am I in the wrong here? What are the parking etiquette rules?”

by Prince Of Petworth November 15, 2016 at 1:55 pm 76 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user angela n.

“Dear PoPville,

I need help with parking etiquette in DC. A neighbor reprimanded me and called me a “bad neighbor” for parking in front of the house he lives in on an unzoned public street after I couldn’t find parking on my zoned parking street that is adjacent to the one he lives on. Parking is an issue on my street because some residents have multiple cars and park them on the street. Today I couldn’t find a spot on my street so I parked on the adjacent street that is unzoned. When I stepped out of the car, a man who had pulled up and parked across the street grabbed my attention and explained that he rents the place that I parked in front of and he doesn’t like it when “you people” park in front of our house when you don’t live there.

I was taken aback and I said that I don’t know who the “you people” are that he’s referring to because I’m a homeowner of 3 years in this neighborhood and since this is a public street with unzoned parking, I thought that it was fine for me to park there. He then explained that since he can’t park in the zoned street that I shouldn’t park on the unzoned street out of common courtesy for my neighbors. At this point I was annoyed that this man would try to tell me where to park on a public street, so I told him (in an admittedly snippy tone) that if I come home and there’s no spots on my zoned street, then I’m going to park where I can because what other choice do I have. I guess that sent him over the edge and he accused me of being a “bad neighbor.” That name calling really got under my skin. Am I in the wrong here? What are the parking etiquette rules?”

  • anon

    The street in front of your/their home is public property. Park at will in any legal, open space.

    • anon

      Correct answer. Close thread.

    • stacksp


    • Anon.

      If only life were that simple. There are things called courtesies. Speaking from experience- a neighbor from an adjacent street time street parked their car right in front of my house, taking the TWO parking spots we normally use.
      They proceeded to leave their car there for the next week, while we had to park up the street carry groceries and baby back and forth.
      I politely left a note on the windshield, asking that if she wasn’t going to move her car, can she use one of the many unoccupied spaces up the street. Another week went by. Then I started leaving little pink notes. Then i started leaving flyers on the windshield. The flyers got her attention and she moved the car back to the other street. Evrruday when I saw that car as I had to carry things from up the block I felt like I was being disrespected. True story.

      • Street Parker

        If I got those notes, I would purposely continue to park in that spot. The street is for everyone. Buy a parking spot if you feel so entitled to one.

        • HaileUnlikely

          You seem to be having trouble with reading comprehension. I will try to help. The car was parked to unnecessarily span two parking spaces, rather than being parked appropriately in a single one. All they had to do to satisfy the Anon’s quite reasonable request was move it 4-5 feet forward or backward. You should buy two parking spots if you feel that your one car requires not one but two.

          • John G.

            Unless there are meters on that street, than how can any random space be designated as a single space, versus multiple spaces? I’m not seeing this at all. In fact, if it was a single car that didn’t move for a week, then the normal ebb and flow of automobile departures and subsequent parking will often reconfigure a street of cars, as though the stationary car is a pivot point. I’ve been living on a long, unzoned street for 13 years, and I’ve seen this happen innumerable times.

        • soulshadow55

          Thank you!

      • John G.

        You were in the wrong here. Your needs don’t have any priority over any other individual’s needs, whether or not you have children, groceries, etc. You consciously chose to live on an unzoned street, and that’s the cost of doing so, and being a good neighbor in this instance is to recognize that you have no inherent right to park in any particular place on your street. It’s as simple as that.

        • HaileUnlikely

          In life, almost every time anybody ever says “[Insert statement of speaker’s opinion here.] It’s as simple as that.” it isn’t actually as simple as that.

      • C_petworth

        I park my car in front of someone else house everyday- why because the spot right in front of my row house is a no parking sport becasue it is where the bus pulls up to make a stop. I also have groceries and in the past have had car seats to lug up the block carry home. That’s part of city life. It sucks that that neighbor took up 2 spots but perhaps when she parked there initially she was fit in between 2 cars. Since most DC streets do not have meters, spots are ill defined. You do not own the spot in front of your house. Your neighbor probably wanted to park in front of her/his house but could not because there was someone else there. This is just logic- we all want to be right in front of our own homes. No one was disrespecting you they were just parking there car.

  • MtP

    I understand his frustration, but he should channel that towards trying to get his street zoned. I never understood why some neighborhood streets are not zoned. You did absolutely nothing wrong.

    • anon

      Because that would be inconvenient for him because he’d have to pay for a zone permit and his visitors would have to go to the MPD station for temporary permits. The more convenient solution for him is for every single person who may have business anywhere near that side of town to acknowledge his ownership of the public space instead.

    • Chris is Eckington

      If a majority of the households on the street agree, you can get the street zoned. Having lived on an unzoned BLOCK previously, there are a numbers of reasons why it to remains unzoned (number of commercial commercial properties, residents with cars registerd out-of-state, etc.). And believe me, it sucks.

    • James W.

      IIRC, I get a parking permit along with my car registration at no extra charge. I also get a temporary visitor parking pass for free. I see absolutely zero downside with zoned parking. With respect to OP, you can park anywhere you want. Your neighbor is a crank.

  • mark

    It’s completely legal to do what you did, however if you always/frequently park in front of your neighbor’s house rather than your own than you are being a dick- taking your problem and making it someone else’s. Maybe shift your car around a little.

    • Tom


    • KBT


    • Kevin

      Mark, you are 100% wrong. Public street parking is just that…especially in the city. End of story.

      To the OP: your neighbor is being an ass. Don’t think twice about doing what you did.

  • Mike

    ” He then explained that since he can’t park in the zoned street that I shouldn’t park on the unzoned street out of common courtesy for my neighbors.” Can this guy not get a zoned parking permit? Or just lazy and lashing out?

    • Cristen

      If the street that your address is on is not Residential Zoned, the city won’t give you an RPP, even if every other street around you has one.

      • Mike

        Oh ok, thanks. That stinks.

        • Tsar of Truxton

          Agreed. That seems like a terrible policy. If your street is zoned you can park anywhere within the zone (which is often many blocks in every direction), but if you live on an unzoned street in the middle of a zone, you are limited to that street only? That said, public parking is public parking, so it’s not really OP’s problem.

          • I live on an unzoned street, and I can confirm this is true. We are limited to parking in only unzoned blocks. This is especially hard on street cleaning days.

          • eggs

            Yeah this is the root of the problem. What a dumb policy.

          • ah

            It’s not a terrible policy. It’s a policy that reflects that some people pay (albeit a ridiculously low amount) for parking in a zoned area and others don’t.

            Plus, it gives those folks an incentive to get their street zoned. If they don’t like the policy (and can’t get it changed) petition so you can pay the grand cost of $35/year to park on your street and prevent people from Maryland from parking on it for more than 2 hours at a time.

          • James W.

            Don’t underestimate the ambition of Maryland drivers who (somehow) procure visitor parking passes and park 8 to 5 every day on your zoned street.

      • DeanWillow

        Weird. My street used to be unzoned until this year. I was able to get a RPP while it was unzoned.

        • ZetteZelle

          Did you live in an apartment/condo building? There are some individual buildings that are RPP zoned even though the street they’re on isn’t.

          • DeanWillow

            Nope. Rowhouse.

        • TX2DC

          Same here. I live in a house on an unzoned street and was still able to get a zoned parking permit on my registration sticker.

      • Erin M

        Not true. My house is in front of a non-zoned area. For 1 block…my block…the parking spaces are open to all. Yet I do in fact have a zoned permit.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I don’t doubt that you are being truthful with regard to your situation, but provided you are (and I do believe you), your situation came about by means of an error by DMV. You are not supposed to be eligible for an RPP. Source: http://dmv.dc.gov/service/residential-parking-permits.

    • Anonamom

      If your address is on an unzoned street, then I don’t believe you can get a zone permit. The RPP goes by address, and it automatically assigns you as “NO RPP” when you register your car.

      • PVRes

        It depends slightly. If your block is unzoned, but within an an ENHANCED RPP zone, you may be able to get your address added to the system and therefore get the zone sticker. My block in Park View was unzoned until recently, but for the last year or 2 we have had an RPP sticker for the car. Our ANC commissioner facilitated the transaction for us with DDOT.

  • kapitolhill

    I’d tell him to pound sand, but he’d probably key my car or try some other street justice.

    • Marty

      which is why i’m amazed at the number people who drive nice cars. We are a two car family – each is pretty beat up. We could afford new(er) cars, but they’ll get dinged, hit, etc, so why bother? It gets A to B safety.

  • Alex

    Nope, you are completely right. Neighborly courtesy is nice, when it’s possible. If parking is tough and there aren’t other spots, you have as much a right to park there as anyone else.

    People like this are jerks, and the coded language (usually accompanied by gender bias, in my experience) isn’t helping neighborhood relations at all.

  • PB

    Man, cars make people act like idiots. Even the process of finding a parking spot breeds entitlement and encourages conflict.

    • atlascesar


    • navyard

      This is so true.

      • navyard

        I didn’t mean the OP feels entitled or is encouraging conflict. Sorry to the OP if my statement seemed that way. I just agreed with the sentiment in general. The renter who claims the spot for himself is wrong. It’s a public street. If the dude was correct in claiming the spot in front of his house as his own, then he should have to stay in it 100% of the time, and never be allowed to park anywhere else. That’s just silly.

  • wdc

    I guess he has a point, and had he been reasonable instead of calling you names, it would have been kind to tell him that you will avoid the unzoned spaces as much as possible– and then do that.
    But no, you’re not in the wrong.

    • textdoc

      +1. Is it possible for the OP to look for spaces on other zoned blocks first, and go to the unzoned block as a last resort?

  • B

    You are in the right, he is the bad neighbor.

  • 11th St

    Does he pay for the parking spot? No, it’s public property. Park wherever you want.

  • Parkyourself

    Where in the city does this situation occur, where an unzoned street is next to a zoned street?

    One or two examples would be fine. OP – please chime in.

    • Hookdntc

      Trinidad…. all over the place

    • ChenChen

      in petworth about a block from where all the upshur restaurants are there is a block in a neighborhood that is not zoned; all streets around it are.

      I used to park there to visit my friend (who lives on the street) before I moved to DC. I think its Randolph street that she lives on.

    • Dognonymous

      There are many instances of this in Brookland, too.

    • ah

      Upper NW too – e.g., around AU the streets are zoned but if you get a few blocks away . . . unzoned. So guess where all the day-job folks park?

    • eva

      Parts of SE Petworth.

  • BKDC

    I live on an unzoned street surrounded by zoned streets. You’re not wrong, but do consider the fact that those on the unzoned street are limited to other unzoned streets for parking. You have a lot more choices, and it would be neighborly of you to keep that in mind next time that you’re looking for a spot.

    • anon


    • +1. I also lived on an unzoned street at one time, and it was incredibly difficult at times to find a place to park, when nearly every other street for blocks around was zoned. Maybe take that into consideration.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Agreed with BKDC.

    • textdoc

      +1. As I was saying above, it would be better for the OP to look for spaces on other zoned blocks first, and go to the unzoned block as a last resort.

      • Bloom

        That is exactly what the OP said they did. There were no spots on their zoned street so they had to park on the unzoned street.

        • HaileUnlikely

          My general impression here is that nobody is right and nobody is wrong, the situation blows for all parties involved. From the perspective of the OP, he tried, and as a last resort, he took a spot in an unzoned street. From the perspective of the neighbor, his street is always packed with cars with RPPs that (could, theoretically, contingent upon availability) park in other places where he can’t (i.e., probably not personal specifically against OP, just a recurring issue that holders of RPPs are parking in the unzoned spots when they (theoretically) have other options available to them that he doesn’t).

        • textdoc

          Bloom, I think you’re misreading my recommendation. It was that if the OP can’t find a space on her own block, she should first look for a space on OTHER zoned blocks. That’s not what the OP did; she couldn’t find a space on her own block, so she parked on an unzoned block. Which on the face of it seems reasonable enough, but given what the neighbor said about the parking pressure on the unzoned block, it would be more courteous to try another zoned block first.

  • anoNE

    If he had approached you in a friendly way with something specific (“Hi! Im so-and-so, nice to meet you. I’m sorry to ask this, but do you mind switching spots with me? That’s my house, and I would love to use my front hose to wash my car/need to load up two toddlers in an hour/have problems with break ins and like to be able to see my car.”) and you flipped him the bird, you’re a bad neighbor. You also indicate he parked across the street, so this wasn’t a case where he had to then go search for an unzoned street for 30min because you took the last spot. You did nothing wrong, and he did himself no favors with his approach.

  • On the other hand, he could have been a good neighbor as well by understanding your situation and how it was a one-off. I have the same type of cranky neighborhood on my (unzoned street) and he thinks its his god-given right to park in front of his house.

  • Smittty

    This is absurd. I understand parking is an issue for people but is OP not supposed to park her/his car when her zone is full. No. OP did nothing wrong and if that dude wants his own parking he can rent a spot.

  • Brightwoodian

    Come to Brightwood my friends! Parking is generally wide open.

    • SassyinDC, Hillcrest/Ward7

      Also, wide open here in Hillcrest.

  • Anonymous

    Let me guess – this guy has a Maryland license plate? That probably explains why he needs an un-zoned spot. Register your car in DC, folks.

  • Blithe

    Long, long ago, it was indeed a common practice for most people to park in front of their houses in many DC neighborhoods. This was commonly understood, and seemed to work well in neighborhoods where most, if not all, of the neighbors both knew and respected one another. It’s quite likely that your neighbor is accurately — if rudely — describing his experiences and expectations. It is also quite likely that many commenters in PoPville, who often focus on legalities rather than neighborliness, and who are relatively new to the city have different experiences. So legally, you were in the right. Your questions, though, was about “etiquette”, which varies neighborhood by neighborhood and possibly even block by block. So while you weren’t “wrong”, it’s possible that you broke longstanding traditions with regard to neighborliness and parking etiquette, and a good way to determine this is by observing and talking with people who currently live — and park — in your actual neighborhood.

    • ILTXDC

      This. In my neighborhood, I have heard many of the longstanding residents mention similar practices of respectful parking. In fact, in the town I grew up in, my grandmother would chastise me if I parked in front of her neighbor’s house. So, while not illegal, and not necessarily wrong, it may go against how the neighborhood has operated previously, or perhaps how previous generations have viewed street parking.

    • wdc

      In my neighborhood, at least, the density has increased a lot. What used to be homes for one family with one car are now 3-unit condo buildings, or group rentals with 3-4 residents.
      So I get that someone might miss the good old days of one car per house and plentiful parking, but that’s just not the reality anymore.
      Agreed that talking to neighbors is good. Always.

  • Halfsmoke

    As long as we all park with our TIRES not our bumpers to the sign post there will be ample parking for all and peace in the valley.

    • Jwetz

      That’s a great way to catch tickets.

  • Manamana

    Proper etiquette requires that you now park in front of this person’s house regardless of the availability of parking elsewhere.

  • SweetEpiphany

    Hi, I’m the OP. Thanks for all of your input, especially from those of you who understood that my question was really about etiquette. As a young, DC transplant I don’t know all the social norms here. There’s some unspoken rules that date back decades and I’m sure I’m breaking half of them on a daily basis . Regardless of whether I was legally right in parking where I parked, my main concern is that I have to live in my neighborhood and I would rather not create unnecessary angst with my neighbors. So I’ll see what I can do to not park in front of people’s houses if that is one of the social norms in the city. And for those wondering where these unzoned places are, take a trip to Northeast and you’ll see them everywhere.

  • kittycatbob

    We have people who live in a condo park right in front of our house, often talking up two spaces, because they don’t want to pay to park in their own parking lot. Those are people that should be killed with fire.


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