Parking in New York City can be the pits. The spot-to-car ratio is unfavorable for the modern motorist, to say the least. Those who invest in property within condominium or cooperative properties may well one day want to start a family, pack up the old minivan, and take a trip out of state once in awhile. But how feasible is it to have a car in this topsy-turvy town? Well, in co-ops like Seward Park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, not very; according to this March 9th article from NY1 by Michael Sciotto, the wait can be as excessive as 30 years for some pavement in a hallowed garage. We could all be living on a space station on Mars by then.
Given the low supply and high demand, it’s no surprise that competition is fierce for these scarce spots. But do tempers ever boil over, leading to owner vs. owner or owner vs. board conflict? We asked some property managers if they've encountered anything grisly down in the trenches.
"We just took over a building [in Lower Manhattan] and had our first board meeting," says Steven Birbach, president and CEO of Vanderbilt Property Management, LLC in Glenwood Landing. "The board members tell me that there's a clause in their documents that establishes parking to be at the discretion of the board of directors. This means that the board could, in theory, terminate someone's privilege if it deems necessary."
"They have a shareholder in the building who lives elsewhere," he continues. "He keeps the apartment vacant and comes and goes as he pleases. He has a parking spot which he uses about once per month, and we're talking about a 60-some-odd unit building with a lot built for 14 cars, so people are going to get upset when they see a vacant spot. Thus the board decided at that meeting that they wanted us to draft a letter for their review, which they'd send to the shareholder saying that they're giving him 30 days to vacate. Now, if I'm that shareholder, I'm going to fight this, especially considering it's a spot that I'd been holding for years and I'm not violating any rules."
Out in Elmhurst, Queens, Martin Kera, the president of New York City-based Bren Management Corp., worked with a 22-unit condo that had 17 outdoor parking spots sold in accordance with apartments; a more favorable ratio than Birbach's, but it too was not without its problems. "There was an area where the parking spots ran parallel to the curb," he says. "Certain people would park two cars perpendicular in one spot, at two different places. This blocked other people from getting in and out. When approached by aggravated car owners, I wrote letters to the violators, which were summarily ignored. This put both management and board in a situation where we'd have to tow owners, and the board didn't want to fight over that."
And Ira Meister, RAM, CREA, founder and president of Manhattan-based Matthew Adam Properties, LLC, once found himself in the middle of a (former) lover's quarrel: "A couple got divorced, and the wife retained their apartment. But their parking spot, a separate entity, was in the husband's name, so he sold it. It was basically a revenge thing. And it ended up being litigated for years. They went after each other for awhile, we got caught up in it, and, in the end, she ended up without a spot."
So how can boards and managers best avoid disputes in this most contested of arenas? Through vigilance, mostly. "I have a full 150-car lot in the Bronx," says Josh Koppel, president of Yonkers-based H.S.C. Management Corp. "It's completely full, so I keep a waiting list. If you don't pay your maintenance, I throw you out of the lot, and the next person gets a spot. We give you a warning to get your car out, and if you don't do that sufficiently quickly, we tow you away. It's very cut and dry."
"I have another ten-car lot for a 60-unit building," Koppel continues. "People have been on the waiting list for as long as ten years. People were always at each other's throats, so we posted the waiting list in the mail room, so everyone could witness the progress. That said, the list barely ever changed."
Wait for It?
Meister concurs: "We just keep everything above board. When we have waiting lists, we publish them and keep them posted, so that no one can say that someone slipped in or someone took something that wasn't theirs. And if someone to whom a spot was allocated no longer drives for whatever reason, they give up the spot. Some buildings have a policy where, if you don't have a car registered, you relinquish your space. Others say that if you don't have a car registered in-state, then you abdicate your spot. And yet others allow owners to enter into a two-year agreement with the next person on the list, should they need to vacate their space for a limited period. In other words, if you're moving cross-country, or taking an outside assignment somewhere, and you don't want to lose your parking privilege, you're allowed to sublet it for two years, and the subletter pays a premium to the building."
All of this said, Kenneth Jacobs, a partner with the law firm of Smith, Buss & Jacobs LLP, with offices in Yonkers and New York City, feels as if we're a long way from devolving into a Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic nightmare scenario. "The parking issue isn't quite as bad as people think it is," he says. "There are quite a few garages, and relatively few give discounts. You can almost always find one in Manhattan, or you can park down the street. I haven't found it to be a steel cage match to get a parking space, usually."
Mike Odenthal is a staff writer at The Cooperator.