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You Don’t Own That Parking Spot in Front of Your House

Smashed windows, eggs, acid, and angry notes. These are just some of the methods residents have used to show their dissatisfaction with people parking on public streets in front of their homes. Americans have largely grown up with the idea that parking is a right; a right so fundamental we included it in the Declaration of Independence or something.

Typically parking anger is voiced when drivers are presented with a fee to park. Of course, even free parking isn’t actually free. It costs money to build and maintain parking lots and structures. Paved parking lots increase water runoff, so a higher stormwater fee is assessed to lot owners. All of those costs are transferred to users directly in the form of paid parking or indirectly in the form of higher prices for goods, rent, and home ownership. Increasingly, though, people not only feel they have a right to free parking, but also a right to exclude others from parking on a public street in front of their house or apartment.

Many local governments have long had minimum parking standards: rules that require the construction of a certain number of parking spaces based on the square footage of a commercial building or the number of units in an apartment building. This has helped to maintain an adequate level of parking, but has also led to poor land use policies as large swaths of land must be dedicated to often empty parking lots. Parking garages can mitigate this waste, but they come with higher costs and those costs are passed on to consumers. As metro areas become denser and as cities eliminate minimum parking requirements, a lack of parking has developed. This could be alleviated by increasing transit options, but we are decades behind in transit funding.

Excessive parking on Moreland Avenue

Since parking is becoming scarce and people view convenient parking as a fundamental right, anger is increasingly prevalent in many urban neighborhoods. It’s important to remember that a homeowner or tenant does not own the public parking spot on the street in front of their house and they have no legal right to park directly in front of their building. It’s likely that many who chose to live in areas with such situations may have, ironically, done so because they like the walkability of the neighborhood. Though many could have chosen to live in a building with no assigned spots out of financial necessity as apartments with no dedicated parking may be cheaper.

The burgeoning outrage should, at the very least, make us consider current policy. Anger can be broken down into two categories: those who are angry that neighborhood residents leave their cars in the same spot for multiple days and those who are angry that people from outside the neighborhood consume local public parking spots.

Move Your Car or the Police Will Move It For You

Residents upset about long-term parking on public streets have few options since there are no parking restrictions in place. However, current Georgia law presumes that a car is abandoned after being parked on a public street continuously for more than five days. After five days, a car can be towed if it reasonably appears to a police officer that the car’s owner does not intend to return and move the car. [1]

While the law may have good intentions, it seems to have been written by someone who has never lived in a place with no assigned parking spots. Many legitimate reasons exist as to why a resident without assigned parking may leave their car on a public street continuously for more than 5 days. This could happen if they take public transportation to work, work from home, or go on vacation. While they may take their car out to the store over the course of five days, neighbors may not notice the car’s movement. Angry neighbors can then call the police to start the process of having it towed. The owner is then at the mercy of  it “reasonably” appearing to a police officer that the owner does not intend to move the car before the car is towed at the owner’s expense.

Two clearly abandoned cars in Cloudland Canyon State Park

The other concern is with people who live outside of a neighborhood continually taking parking spots to the detriment of those who live in the neighborhood. If parking by residents from other neighborhoods is a severe enough problem then the city should look at implementing residential permit parking. This should only be used when necessary, though, and not when residents get upset about having to park a block from their home.

Whether we like it or not, Atlanta is currently an auto-dependent city and car ownership is a requisite for many activities, including going to work or visiting friends. As transportation options increase, permit parking should also increase. Like other resources, parking is often regulated to maximize the number of people who can use it. Placing time limits or fees on parking in business areas encourages turnover, which allows more people to participate in the market. Fees also subsidize maintenance costs and the mitigation of negative externalities related to parking spaces (air pollution, water pollution, water runoff, etc.)

Parking Restrictions May Raise Rents

This rationale doesn’t necessarily work in residential areas, though. This is particularly true when other modes of transportation are sparse or don’t exist. While we should discourage auto use in favor of walking, cycling, and mass transportation, this can only be done when those other options not only exist, but are feasible alternatives for getting to and from work.

We need to address parking outrage, but we should tread carefully in initiating too many parking restrictions when public transit isn’t yet a viable option for most people. We should also limit the ammunition of angry neighbors by easing vehicle abandonment laws and making an effort to educate the public on their parking rights.

A 10-day instead of 5-day auto abandonment law may be a good compromise. Residents should be discouraged from leaving their cars in one spot for too long, but residents shouldn’t be under the constant threat of police action when many legitimate reasons exist for leaving a car in one spot for several days. We should also look at requiring police to take prescribed actions, not just reasonable actions, prior to towing a vehicle. Whether it’s five or ten days, the public should be made aware that they do not own public parking spots and they obviously have no right to vandalize cars.

Giving parking permits to residents has the potential for raising rents since tenants would acquire an additional possessory interest in a valuable piece of property. To avoid this, landlords should actively work with tenants to make sure they are aware of public parking laws. In smaller apartment buildings with no assigned parking spots, landlords may want to explore more creative contracting options with tenants. Tenants could agree with each other and with the landlord on a parking schedule where certain tenants agree to avoid parking in particular areas on particular days in favor of other tenants.


  1. See OCGA § 40-11-1

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