Are HOAs Allowed to Tow? Parking Enforcement Rules and Rights

All board members know, whether they’ve served for a month or a decade, the frustrations of parking restrictions. This article discusses the difference between private and public street parking as well as the steps to take for a lawfully authorized tow to help your HOA better understand its parking rules and rights.

All board members know, whether they’ve served for a month or a decade, the troublesome trio for HOAs: people, pets, and parking. Parking enforcement by the HOA can be an especially frustrating problem for both boards and members, because it concerns one of the most valuable items in a homeowner’s possession: their vehicle. This makes homeowners particularly sensitive when the board takes action against wrongfully parked vehicles, and can result in an angry reaction or, in the worst cases, a lawsuit.

Most HOAs have rules for parking laid out in their CC&Rs and rules, typically covering restrictions such as:

  • What types of vehicles are allowed (commercial, recreational, etc.)
  • Where members may park
  • How long a vehicle may be parked in one spot

Different types of HOAs generally offer different parking rules to better suit both the association and the membership’s needs. Whether an HOA is a condominium project or a single-family planned development, in an urban or rural area, or has an abundant or scarce available parking space will affect the specific parking restrictions an association has in place. State laws and local ordinances also govern the type of rules an HOA can enforce, which can sometimes be a mess to figure out.

This article discusses the difference between private and public street parking as well as the steps to take for a lawfully authorized tow to help your HOA better understand its parking rules and rights.

HOA Parking Regulations: Private vs. Public Streets

In 2007, the California code regulating towing was re-written to make towing safer for the public, reduce the need for police involvement, and allow local government to regulate towing (CVC 22658). This code establishes separate laws for the type of street being regulated for parking (public vs. private).

When reviewing your HOA’s current parking rules or drafting new ones, it’s important to understand the different authority given to associations for private and public roads. Typically, an HOA has the authority to regulate the private streets within its development, but has no authority to enforce parking restrictions on public streets (whether they’re in the development or not).

HOAs Can Regulate Private Streets

Many HOA developments contain private roads that are not open for use by the public and are owned or maintained by the association. Generally, under state law and the governing documents, HOAs may regulate parking for both members and non-members on these roads. Typical parking regulations do the following:

  • Restrict the number of allowable vehicles
  • Prohibit or limit commercial or recreational vehicles
  • Require that vehicles be parked in garages

HOAs can enforce these regulations by levying fines, suspending member rights, and towing.  While CVC 22658 authorizes fines for parking violations, these can only be enforced on members of the association. An HOA cannot investigate and enforce a fine on the public, or lookup a vehicle by the VIN or license number through the CA DMV.<

In order to legally enforce parking rules, the HOA must first have the appropriate signage in place, which is established within local city laws. Read this article to learn more about different California cities’ parking ordinances.

HOAs Cannot Regulate Public Streets…Usually

While an HOA can enforce parking rules on its private streets, violations on public streets are typically the realm of police officers. A public street is any road that is publicly maintained, open to the public, and under the responsibility of the government. An HOA may not interfere with that regulation, except to the extent authorized by law.

However, some attorneys believe that the HOA may enforce parking restrictions contained in the governing documents. For example, some HOA governing documents prohibit the parking of recreational vehicles (RVs) or work vehicles on public streets within the community. Case law in other states (not California) has upheld these restrictions as reasonable and enforceable. Because only homeowners are bound by the “covenant” of the governing documents, enforcement against non-owners may be difficult or impossible.

If the HOA is struggling with illegal parking on public streets, board or parking committee members may wish to learn local parking ordinances and call the local authorities when they observe a violation. An HOA that wishes to exercise authority over parking on public streets should ask an attorney to review the governing documents and determine what enforcement actions are legal. The answer may change depending on the association.

Call the Tow Truck: Three Steps to Enforce Parking Rules

As with any use restriction, the real challenge is in enforcement, but there are ways to make it easier. First, the HOA should adopt fair and reasonable parking restrictions that are consistent with the governing documents and the law. Then, it should ensure that the members are aware of the restrictions. And lastly, it should enforce those restrictions fairly.

Where applicable and authorized, an association can tow an improperly parked vehicle. Towing falls under the California Vehicle Code, and in most cases, requires an association to follow the three-step procedure in order for the tow to be legal (CVC 22658):  

  • Give prior notice of parking restrictions on the property
  • Provide written authorization for the tow
  • Report the tow

Give Notice

The notice requirement can be met either by posting signs at all entrances to the development or by issuing a parking violation notice at least 96 hours before towing the vehicle. The statute provides specific size and content requirements for the signs that must be met where that form of notice is used by the association.

Provide Authorization

Valid authorization for the tow can be achieved by a general or specific towing authorization. A specific authorization is a request by the association to remove a specific unauthorized vehicle from the development. This type of request further verifies to the towing operator that the person requesting the tow has the authority to have the particular vehicle removed. A general authorization permits a towing operator to monitor the development and tow vehicles without having to obtain a specific authorization. Keep in mind that the circumstances under which a tow operator may remove a vehicle under a general authorization are extremely limited (e.g. blocked fire lanes).

Most tows will occur under a specific authorization by an authorized person after witnessing the violation.

Report the Tow

The HOA is also required to make certain reports to the owner and local traffic law enforcement agency. Specifically, the HOA must notify their local agency by telephone within one hour after authorizing the tow.

Do You Know Your Parking Rights?

Now that we’ve discussed the most important elements in parking restriction, you can review (and maybe update!) your HOA’s current CC&Rs. While these statutes are complex, they are not insurmountable. With a little time, your association can create reasonable and clear parking policies and apply those policies in a fair manner, all while staying within the requirements of the law.

Information provided by Andrea L. O’Toole, Esq of Berding | Weil and Burt Dean of Rebello’s Towing. A previous version of this article appeared in the California Association of Community Managers 2008 Summer Law Journal.