Here are the expert-approved strategies for getting the best spot in the lot.
Few victories are sweeter than finding the perfect parking spot. But such victories can be fleeting, which is something that car-owning renters know all too well. No matter if you rent a suburban apartment in Cary, NC, or a midtown apartment in New York, NY, space is at a premium — and not just living space either.
“If curb parking spaces are scarce and valuable but free, competition for the free parking leads to many disputes,” says Donald Shoup, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning and author of the book The High Cost of Free Parking. Just think of the (many) Seinfeld episodes that revolved around the quest for a good parking spot, including George’s philosophy of why pay for something that you can get for free?
But whether you do pay for it (indirectly through rent, or through monthly fees) or have daily Hunger Games-esque battles to find parking, we’ve asked the experts how to handle the many ins and outs of apartment parking.
The challenge: A prime yet vulnerable spot
Even after you nab a great spot, it might leave you uncomfortable that your car is a little too open to damage (especially in a city). If so, your best bet is to beef up your insurance. “Most insurance plans do not include parking damage as part of their language,” says Matthew Kreitzer, a managing attorney for Booth & McCarthy in Winchester, VA. “If your car is damaged from a passing car, and you have proof of identity for the person who caused the damage, you may be able to submit a claim to their insurance company.” But as Kreitzer points out, state laws vary, and you should ask local attorneys for more information before assuming your case is airtight. You should also ask your insurance adjuster for more information on how best to add parking to your policy.
The challenge: Big car, tiny spot
You can fit anything in your big truck or SUV, but it’s no match for a teeny spot that you may or may not have been assigned. Whatever you do, don’t even think about squeezing in. “It may open you up to a lawsuit down the line if, because of your attempt to fit your car in there, some damage results or it prevents another tenant from accessing their spot,” Kreitzer says. Since it’s unlikely that your landlord will widen spots, your options are limited to finding an alternative lot in the area or finding a new apartment nearby.
The challenge: You’re plowed in
When that pile of snow is actually serving as an igloo around your car, what happens next depends on who did it. If you witness a neighbor purposefully burying your car, you might be able to bring suit against the other person. “However, the vast majority of times, it is a city who is doing the plowing,” Kreitzer says. “Cities have immunity from these kinds of suits, generally speaking.” You can consult an attorney if you’re looking for common practices to change, but sadly, it might just be easier to get out the shovel and start digging.
The challenge: It’s a long walk
In the case of assigned parking, the luck of the draw might have landed you far from your front door. If this is your headache, it might be time to negotiate with your landlord. “Always ask for what you want in writing,” says April Masini, an expert in relationship advice and etiquette. While you’ll probably want to vent your frustrations, your odds of a favorable response will skyrocket if you stay calm and polite. “If you get a response you don’t like, ask if there’s a chance of a better spot in six months. There may be a tenant moving out by then, and his or her parking spot may become available for reassignment to you,” Masini says.
Option B is to find a neighbor who will agree to swap spaces. However, a verbal agreement won’t be enough, and you’ll need your landlord’s blessing on the agreed-upon written terms. “At the end of the day, your parking agreement is not with the other tenant — it’s with your landlord,” Masini says.
The challenge: Shared spaces
Limited space means you might have to share your spot with a neighbor. Usually, this won’t lead to drama. But if they’re a space hog, don’t escalate the issue with a confrontation. “Getting into a back and forth with a neighbor can easily be avoided by asking the landlord to clarify any necessary solutions,” Masini says.
The challenge: You’re blocked in
It’s happened to all of us: You’re ready to conquer a list of errands, only to find that another car is making it impossible to leave your spot. If you know the owner, a friendly (emphasis on “friendly”) knock on the door is usually enough to get things moving. No such luck? What happens next depends on whether you’re blocked in on public or private property, Masini says. The former means you’ll be calling the police for help, while the latter makes it a landlord matter. Can’t get your landlord? Snap a photo of your blocked-in car and call a cab. “Worst-case scenario, take a cab or Uber and get a receipt,” she says. “Ask for reimbursement, in writing, from your landlord if your blockage is on private property and from your neighbor if it’s on public property.”
When to move on
When parking has become the deal breaker — and you can’t get rid of your car — it might be time to start hunting for a better place. Car owners who move on to better-paved pastures could have a lasting positive effect on the entire neighborhood, Donald Shoup says. If certain apartment buildings offer only on-street parking, rent could decrease because the price of parking would be eliminated. “As a result, more apartments could become available at lower rents to people without cars,” he says.