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Best practices for parking enforcement at your property

April 12, 2024
Hannah Michelle Lambert
Content Writer

We don’t have to tell you that parking is a massive undertaking on any property that’s got more than a few parking spots. A great parking experience is critical to keep your tenants happy and to save your staff from being overwhelmed. 

That being said, you could map out the perfectly planned parking strategy, but its ability to “work” rests on your enforcement. If you can’t consistently (and easily) enforce your parking standards, everything is likely to fall apart. 

Good enforcement leads to safer communities, less burden on staff and improved parking distribution. In the best-case enforcement scenario, you can create new spaces seemingly out of thin air. In the worst-case scenarios, you open yourself up to the risks of creating parking shortages and frustrating your tenants, especially those who follow the rules. 

So how do you tackle the beast that is parking enforcement and ensure that all of your parking efforts aren’t made in vain? You came to the right place. 

In this in-depth guide, you’ll get tips on:

Accurate record-keeping is your foundation

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of parking enforcement, we have to zoom out a little bit. We can’t talk about enforcement without highlighting how important it is to have an accurate and up-to-date record of who’s allowed to park and where. 

Your enforcement is only as effective as the parking data that you’re enforcing. If you have scattered spreadsheets, unclear (or missing) signage, random hang tags floating around, and generally no confident knowledge of who is allowed to park and where, your enforcement efforts are at risk of crumbling. 

In other words, anything else you learn from this piece will be irrelevant if your records are inaccurate.

Case in point: here’s a horror story we heard from a regional manager about the negative effects of poor records:

“I was a VP of a building where they towed my own son out of our reserved parking spot because the management team accidentally double booked the spot.” - Lety Rodriguez, Regional Manager at Vora Mission Valley

Without a clear and reliable picture of who’s allowed to park in your lot, what car they have, and, if you’re using reserved parking, what spot they’re allowed to be in, you risk towing the wrong cars and making tenants really angry. 

This may also make your team hesitant to enforce the rules out of fear of the situation above arising. Either way, you and your tenants will both lose. 

The best record-keeping system is digital

It’s 2024. Manually managing anything is no longer the most efficient option. Our recommendation is always to use a digital system like Parkade that is always up-to-date, integrates with your existing tech at the property, and makes it easy for residents to update their information themselves.

One of our customers, Artistry Cincy, experienced the difference a digital system makes firsthand:

LEASE-UP CASE STUDY #2

Located in a busy downtown district of Cincinnati, parking is critical to the community at Artistry Cincy. However, before the property management team came to Parkade, enforcement was nearly impossible in their parking lot due to unreliable records, despite a security team patrolling the lot consistently. They had no choice but to succumb to the chaos of unreserved parking.

Once they partnered with Parkade, they were able to digitize all records, fixing the system that fueled their enforcement process. As a result, everything fell into place. They were able to go back to reserved parking and even offer guest parking, all the while reducing the staff’s parking workload by 97%.

Enforcement was nearly impossible in their lot due to unreliable records, despite a security team patrolling the lot consistently. They had no choice but to succumb to the chaos of unreserved parking. 

Once they were able to fix the system that fueled their enforcement process, everything fell into place, so they were able to go back to reserved parking and even offer guest parking. 

If you can’t switch to a digital system, there are still some steps you can take:

First and foremost, don’t use any system that makes it easy for residents to fool you. We’ll leave it to someone from the Multifamily Insiders group to explain why:

If you rely solely on hangtags or stickers to determine who is allowed to park where, there’s no clear way to track if they are on the right cars. You could use non-transferable stickers, but even then, we would still recommend keeping a record for your staff of which sticker is allowed on which car and for which spot. 

If you have to keep records manually, we’d also recommend scheduling regular reviews. Since you can’t rely on automation or integration with other systems, and residents cannot update information themselves, you’ll want to check in at regular intervals to double-check that your records are up-to-date. 

And finally, make sure that there’s not just one person with all of the parking record knowledge. We’ve seen time and time again the domino effect of problems that happen when someone goes on vacation or leaves the company, and the rest of the team realizes that they had no grasp on where the records are and when they were last updated. 

With manual methods, sharing knowledge among multiple team members is critical. 

However, the biggest determinant of how up-to-date your records are will be the system you’re using. So we always recommend a digital system like Parkade so that you don’t have to jump through hoops to ensure that your records are up-to-date. 

But now that we’ve gotten that massive disclaimer out of the way and you’re clear that everything else that follows is contingent upon accurate records, let’s dig into this parking enforcement guide. 

Start with clearly defined parking rules

The critical first step in parking enforcement is defining the rules. You’ll want to consider all of the possible guardrails you want in place and document them so that every stakeholder in the enforcement process is clear on what is and isn’t allowed. 

Here are some common considerations when establishing parking rules:

Parking spot allocation

For multi-family rental buildings, it’s common to limit the number of parking spots that tenants are allowed to have per unit. This can vary based on the size or price of the unit, the number of bedrooms, or the lease agreements. The total amount of spots you have to work with, in comparison to estimated needs, will ultimately help you determine the baseline. 

Reserved vs. unreserved parking

You also want to determine whether your spots are reserved or not. For communities with limited parking, teams already struggling with enforcement, parking areas with a significant variance in parking-spot quality (like covered and uncovered parking), and properties with several in-demand amenities like EV chargers, we typically recommend reserved parking

This also helps you more easily enforce your parking, since tenants will self-police their spots and staff only needs to check unleased spots for unauthorized cars, not all spots.

Guest parking

Guest parking should not be an afterthought in your parking planning. 

Especially if your community is in an area with limited street parking, you want to ensure that your tenants can have guests visit without sacrificing the parking experience for the rest of the tenants. 

Clearly outline the rules for visitor parking, including where visitors can park, for how long, and whether or not they need a temporary parking pass.

Other miscellaneous considerations

There are several other possible factors that you’ll want to consider that may be more specific to your community, such as:

  • Time limits on using parking amenities such as EV chargers (if they’re not assigned) or car washes
  • Designated loading or unloading zones for move-in 
  • Standards around non-functioning cars or out-of-date registration
  • Discounted parking for visiting a particular business or working for a particular employer

Clearly communicate with staff and residents

Once you’ve established your rules, you want to clearly communicate them to all relevant parties, including both your tenants and your staff. 

Signage is a crucial piece of communication. Putting up signs that highlight that parking is reserved and violators will be towed, that residents and visitors must register their vehicles with your parking app or that all guests must register with the front office will go a long way in cutting down on unauthorized parking behavior. 

But you want to go the extra mile with communication so that everyone is crystal clear on the rules. There should be no scenario in which someone gets fined, booted, or towed based on pure ignorance to the rules.

Of course, staff communication is extremely important here. You want to make sure that every staff member understands the rules and the protocols so that parking can be enforced consistently (which we’ll touch on in a bit).

Tenant communication should be even more thorough, though. You’ll want to communicate parking rules both at move-in and when any rules change. 

The best plan here is to use multiple methods of communication, including signs, email, push notifications, and physical letters in their mailbox or at their door. 

Another part of effective communication is incentivizing tenants to help you enforce. If you make it really clear what’s in it for them — a better parking experience, especially if you are short on parking — they’re more likely to report parking violations that they witness. 

Open up a channel of communication for this reporting to occur. If you have a tech-based parking management system like Parkade, this is baked into it. If you don’t have a platform like this, give them a link to a form, a number to text, or an email to reach out to. And follow up so that they know their reaching out wasn’t in vain. 

Establish consequences — when should you tow?

Punishments for improper parking are critical to efficient parking enforcement. You’ll want to establish clear protocols for handing out consequences like warnings, fines, booting, and towing. 

Often, towing seems like the best way to ensure that the rules are followed, but it’s a major pain for both your staff and your residents. So, you want to make sure that you don’t take the decision to tow lightly.

Renae, a property manager we talked to stressed this to us:

“Towing a vehicle could mean the person can't go to work, take kids to school or get groceries. Money is so tight that the tow bill would devastate many families. Please, proceed with caution and compassion.”

In addition to the more human-centered considerations surrounding towing, you also have to comply with the legal standards surrounding towing, which can vary from state to state. For example, in California, you have to post visible warning signs, keep a tow log, and get resident permission before towing from assigned spots.

Because of the contention around towing, it should never be your first resort for enforcement. 

Some property managers see success in having tow trucks come out and patrol on a regular but spread-out basis to look for obviously non-compliant cars. 

“Our towing company comes out once a month and tags cars for non-movement, tabs, broken down, flat tires, etc. We also drive the property daily and issue warnings if needed.”

Towing may be a first option if you cannot identify the car’s owner, whether it is a guest or someone fully from outside the community. You may want to post a notice to their car, but since you’re unable to trace who it belongs to and have no method of contacting them, towing may be the best option if not moved by the end of the day. 

Another instance where you may want to tow quicker is if a car is in an important place:

“If they’re parked in handicapped, parked in front of a gate, double parked, ignoring closed-off parking areas (for painting, repairs, etc), or other such 'major' infractions, we will tow them the same day. We will tag it or call the resident and tow by 5 pm if they don’t move.”

Should you have a contracted towing company?

We would always recommend establishing a contract with a towing company that you can rely on. Not only is this important in getting appropriate towing signage, but when an urgent need to tow does arise, you’ll want to make sure you have someone to call that you can rely on. 

However, make sure that you choose the towing company you collaborate with wisely. You want to avoid any conflicts of interest between whoever is doing your enforcement and whoever is doing the towing — i.e. The person or company in charge of your enforcement shouldn’t have an incentive to tow. 

A parking management company in Colorado made headlines in the last few months for allegedly having ties with a towing company. They were accused or making it intentionally hard to park legally so that they could reap the benefits of towing more vehicles. You’ll want to avoid this situation at all costs. 

Options besides towing

If the party doing parking enforcement has easy access to your parking records (in a system like Parkade), you can avoid primarily relying on towing. Whether a staff member discovered a wrongly parked car while on patrol or a resident reported the offender in-app, property managers are able to easily search for the license plate in the system. This helps them see if they’re a resident or not, and their history of parking compliance. 

This opens up the door for other, easier options besides towing. 

Warnings 

Many properties choose to be more lenient for first offenders and issue a warning instead. They may also be more lenient if someone parked somewhere they’re not allowed if someone is in their spot. Another scenario where warnings may be appropriate is if new rules were recently established. 

One property manager shared with us that they always prefer to take the warning route first, before towing: 

“If the vehicle is in our system, we contact the resident. Typically that solves it. If not, we post a tow notice telling that person to call the office immediately, or we will tow in 24 hours.”

Fines 

If you’re able to trace a car back to a resident, you can easily assign punishments for improper parking without getting tow trucks involved. You can give them a fine and send a message that violating the rules carries consequences and that violators will be enforced.

One property manager we talked to mentioned that they use a point system to distinguish between warnings, fines, and tows:

“We use a point system with one point per infraction. The first point is a warning, 2-4 points are fines, and at 5 points we tow.”

If you use a point system similar to this, you’ll want to decide if point accrual ever resets — i.e. are people automatically reset to 0 points every year, or do they continue to accrue them?

Being able to use a system like this, again, requires a reliable and up-to-date record of a resident’s parking allowances and history of infractions. 

Boots or barnacles

If you’d like to explore other enforcement options besides towing that still highly disincentivize improper parking but don’t have as big of a lift as towing, boots or barnacles are an option. These options essentially demobilize someone’s car until they pay the fine to get them removed. This will definitely make someone think twice about parking in the wrong spot. 

One upside is that these options are logistically easier if your building has a really tight garage that’s difficult for tow trucks to navigate.

However, the downside here is that, unlike towing, it leaves unauthorized parkers in the spots — and someone has to come to remove the boot or barnacle (though barnacle sometimes can be self-removed after payment). 

While towing may be a better option to get a serial offender out of a spot in a packed parking lot, these options may be better for properties that can spare the space for several hours but want to discourage that person from continuing to park improperly. 

Consistent enforcement

If there’s one thing tenants (and people in general) hate, it’s unfairness. 

So make sure that you’re consistent in enforcing the rules for all residents and employees, regardless of their position or how long they’ve been at the property. Failure to be consistent can breed resentment, and on the flip side, consistency encourages compliance. 

For example, here’s a message a resident Jon sent to a property manager who now uses Parkade, when enforcement was shoddy: 

“It’s currently 10:23 at night, and I am tired! The last thing I should have to worry about is IF I have a parking spot when I get home that I actively pay for. We have seen residents skate by and skip out on paying their fair share to park. I like to consider myself a lenient person, but I’m seriously starting to get irritated about the accountability of other residents.”

The more consistent you are with enforcement, the less confidence parkers will have that they can get away with breaking rules. You want to make sure you don’t leave gaps in your enforcement — i.e. people understand they can typically get away with unauthorized parking for a few hours, but not a few days. Be strict about immediately activating your first line of defense in the scenario at hand, whether that’s a warning, fine, boot, or tow.

Regularly monitor parking areas

In order to be consistent, it’s helpful to keep your parking lot or garage monitored on a regular basis. 

To help you do this, establish a clear monitoring protocol by deciding:

  • Who will be doing the monitoring
  • When they will be monitoring — frequency, time, and duration
  • And how it will be conducted. For example, will they be checking every car on the property or just sections of the property? What data will they reference (again, can’t stress enough how important reliable records are here!) 

Although constant patrolling is critical to catching unauthorized behavior quickly, it can be extremely time-consuming and eat into much of your staff’s available time. 

So, if possible, consider implementing an electronic parking management system that can automate parking permits, guest passes, and parking violations. While manual patrols may still be necessary, this can help reduce unauthorized behavior overall. 

You can also use technology such as security cameras to help with monitoring. While cameras are primarily helpful with keeping your residents safe, they have the added bonus of making it easier to keep an eye on parking behavior remotely. 

If you truly don’t have the manpower to patrol, you may want to hire a parking management company or security personnel to enforce the rules and monitor the property. The kicker here is that outside companies very rarely have access to your property management system (where you’re likely managing parking), so they don’t have an accurate understanding of who’s allowed to be parking there. 

Typically, this leads to adding additional tools like hang tags or decals, introducing yet another opportunity for a disconnect between all of your systems. So if you are going this route, make sure that you’re able to give whoever you hire access to your digital parking records. 

Give your residents the power to report

Perhaps the best way to make sure that your parking rules are consistently enforced is by giving your tenants the ability to report improper parking. We touched on this lightly when discussing communication, but let’s get into more of the how. 

You want to establish a clear and reliable system for tenants to quickly report misparked cars. Put yourself in their shoes. Someone is parked in your spot or in an aisleway, you’re already frustrated, and you don’t want to have to jump through a million hoops to get solutions. 

Instead of just providing a number for them to call (in my experience, this often goes directly to voicemail or some central line with no knowledge of the property), give them an official channel to use. For a more low-tech option, this could be a form that pings as a priority to your 24/7 security or maintenance.

The best option is integrating reporting capabilities directly into the app where they reserve/pay for parking, in a system like Parkade

Not only does this give them a seamless experience in reporting the problem, but they’re also able to access real-time assistance and be redirected to a new spot if someone is in theirs. It’s a win/win. You get instant reports of unauthorized parking, and the situation becomes just a minor inconvenience to your tenant rather than something that potentially ruins their whole night. 

Be responsive to feedback

The best parking enforcement processes will be those that are embraced by both your team and your residents. If you implement policies that end up causing more of a hassle than the problem they’re solving, it’s ultimately not worth it. 

So that means that you want to create a two-way communication channel to hear from your residents about the things that are and aren’t working. You can do this by sending out regular surveys to your residents about their living experience. But you can also open up a channel for residents to submit feedback whenever they want. 

The most important step here, though, is to actually use this feedback. People are much more likely to respond to surveys if they feel their input will affect change. 

And the opposite is also true: no one wants to respond to a survey if they feel like it’s nothing more than a formality and their answers don’t matter. 

To avoid this, make a plan to put feedback to good use, follow up in response to feedback you get, and keep an open mind to ideas from both residents and staff. 

Steps you can take to make enforcement easier

So you’ve got the step-by-step of how to streamline parking enforcement at your property, whether you’re still in the lease-up phase or are just looking to revamp your parking strategy. 

But you may be wondering what to do if you feel like you’ve considered all of these tips and are still struggling. 

The tips below should help you out.

Gates 

While gates aren’t needed for every single property, there are several instances where they make sense. You can see the whole list of criteria in our full parking gate guide, but at the top of the list of reasons to install a gate is if you’re having trouble with a lot of people who don’t live in your community parking in your lot. 

Gates help to put a physical barrier between your parking lot or garage and unauthorized parkers. If fines, boots, and towing aren’t working, a gate may be a good method to keep people out in the first place. 

Of course, a gate introduces a variety of other considerations like high costs, required maintenance, and access methods (which we cover in detail in our guide), but you may find that it’s worth the bit of extra managing. 

Hands-off, tech-driven enforcement 

We’ve been continuously reinforcing the importance of a solid system of record in parking enforcement, and we’ve teased a bit what this could look like. But now we’re going to paint the full picture. 

With an app-based parking management system like Parkade, you get 24/7 enforcement, and your staff hardly has to lift a finger. The platform absolves your staff of the responsibility of patrolling the lot constantly (and often still struggling with unauthorized parkers despite their efforts). 

The simple and user-friendly app gives your residents the power to report people in their spots and get instant access to solutions, like being redirected to another spot temporarily. And they get to do this in the same app that they also reserve and pay for their long and short-term parking.

The benefits also extend to your guests. Instead of crossing their fingers that they get an open spot, risking getting towed, or having to park a mile down the street and walk, they’re able to rent out extra spots on a short-term basis (which means extra revenue for your team, too).

So in short, when you pass the task of enforcement to our tech, your staff, your residents, and their guests all benefit. 

But let’s dig a little more into what your team stands to gain:

  • Your team saves hours per week. No more hang tags, spreadsheets or manually tagging mis-parked cars required. 
  • You have a safer community. Parkade leverages real-time data to quickly spot unknown vehicles and tow them if necessary. 
  • You get to reclaim previously lost revenue. Whether you’ve struggled with people sneaking by parking or free or you just haven’t been able to reliably create a monetizable system for guest parking (or both), Parkade helps you maximize the value of every single spot you have available. 

So, if this guide has made it clear that a scattered and unreliable parking system is the root of your enforcement problems, reach out to us at Parkade to see how we can get your parking strategy back in shape.

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