By Mike Antich
One of the things I love about the annual conference of the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) is the ability to spend quality time networking with fleet industry experts. A case in point was a conversation with Bret Watson, CAFM, national fleet manager for Sprint Nextel Corp. Bret told me several companies are considering branding previously non-branded fleet vehicles and this has generated employee concerns. "This affects a lot of drivers," said Bret. "Employees are calling up their employers saying 'you can't logo my vehicle because I then can't park in my subdivision – it doesn't allow commercial vehicles.'" The question was whether these employee concerns were legitimate.
Upon researching this topic, I discovered there is some merit to these employee concerns. When a company decides to brand its fleet vehicles with either corporate logos or full-vehicle advertising wraps, it may inadvertently create a situation that puts employees in conflict with homeowner association restrictions on the parking of commercial vehicles in common areas. Most homeowner associations allow commercial vehicles as long as they are garaged, but not all commercial fleet vehicles can fit in a garage due to vehicle height or length. In addition, there is no national uniformity to homeowner association parking restrictions; they run the gamut, with each local entity having the right to determine its own restrictions governing commercial vehicles.
Restrictions on Commercial Fleet Vehicles
An estimated 50 million Americans live in homeowner association-governed communities. Approximately, 6,000-8,000 new community associations are formed every year, including condominiums, cooperatives, and planned communities.
Homeowner associations, or HOAs, are formal legal entities created to maintain common areas. They have the authority to enforce deed restrictions. Most condominiums, town home developments, and many newer single-family subdivisions are governed by HOAs, usually created when the development is built. Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&R) are the governing documents that dictate how homeowners association operates and what rules owners must obey. These documents and rules are legally enforceable by the homeowners association, unless a specific provision conflicts with federal, state, or local laws. It is fairly common and permissible among HOAs to restrict or, in more extreme cases, prohibit the parking of commercial vehicles. Many HOAs do not allow overnight parking of commercial vehicles in the common areas of their communities. Branded vehicles of local vendors or tradesmen, such as plumbers, electricians, HVAC, etc., are allowed to temporarily park within an HOA-administered community, as long as they do not park overnight. Restrictions governing commercial vehicles are typically found in the CC&Rs governing parking privileges. Usually, these restrictions require a commercial vehicle be garaged with the garage door down.
HOAs can be overzealous in enforcing parking restrictions since parking spaces are at a premium in many subdivisions. Parking committees post Day-Glo orange violation stickers on vehicles and employ roving tow trucks with instructions to hook and tow violators. One HOA property owner told the story of a friend who visited her with a personal vehicle displaying his Web site address on the back window. She reported receiving in the mail a notice of violation warning that no commercial vehicles are allowed parked on the property overnight and that any vehicles with lettering are considered commercial vehicles. This HOA was within its legal rights since a CC&R provision stated that no commercial vehicles are to be parked, stored, or kept within the property unless it can be stored in the unit's garage.
Legally, HOAs have the authority to control the type of vehicles allowed to park within the communities they administer. However, restricting certain kinds of commercial vehicles becomes problematic, especially if the vehicle is a resident's primary transportation. The common retort is that the individual should have read the CC&Rs before buying a home in an HOA-administered community. What happens if a company decides to brand its vehicles after an individual becomes a property owner in an HOA? Sometimes, company drivers have a legal recourse. Most CC&Rs allow their provisions to be amended if a certain percentage of the property owners agree to the change.
Taking Legal Recourse
In a 2006 lawsuit, Fowler vs. Loucks, a homeowner was prevented from driving his commercial vehicle home after work. In August 2003, the Loucks moved into the Braecrest subdivision in the Seattle area. James Loucks worked for Robison Construction Inc. (RCI). In connection with his employment, Loucks drove an RCI tool truck home and parked it on the street in front of his house. After his neighbors, the Fowlers, told the Loucks about the residential use restriction, the RCI truck continued to be parked in the neighbor's view. When unable to resolve the issue with the Loucks, the Fowlers contacted Loucks' employer, RCI, in an attempt to prevent Loucks from taking the truck to the Braecrest subdivision. RCI ordered Loucks not to take the truck home. Ultimately, the Loucks were able to persuade enough neighbors to revise the CC&R governing commercial vehicles; however, it took years of litigation and counterlitigation.
Let me know what you think.