What's Up with That? Homes’ no-parking signs on public roads illegal

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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I have a question relating to what appears to be private use of public space. Near one of my friend’s home in the Vancouver Heights area, several property owners have posted official-looking “No Parking” signs in front of their homes. This area seems to be simply the shoulder of the road and it does not seem they have any right to do this. There are some other property owners that have placed large boulders in such a way as to make the shoulder area unusable for parking. Is there any legal problem with this practice?

— Linda Caton

Yes, Linda, there’s a “legal problem” with clearing or reserving the space in front of your house by awarding yourself your own private parking (or no-parking) zone: It’s illegal.

City streets are owned by the public, not by any individual. Including even that wonderful, special little space in front of your own abode that nobody would ever miss.

According to Vancouver parking services manager Michael Merrill, two sets of laws ban such a practice. For one thing, the city requires a permit for any private use of a public street.

“Control of the public right-of-way is one of the city of Vancouver’s basic police powers,” he said. “Private use of the public-right-of way requires a Street Use Permit.”

Plus, state statute says that it is “unlawful for any person to reserve or attempt to reserve any portion of a highway for the purpose of stopping, standing, or parking to the exclusion of any other like person, nor shall any person be granted such right.” (That’s RCW 46.61.570.)

“A highway,” according to city code, doesn’t mean a big road where you go fast — it means “every way, lane, road, alley, street, boulevard, highway, parking area, and every way or place in the city of Vancouver adopted to and fitted for travel, that is in common use by the public with the consent, implied or express, of the owner.”

So it’s a pretty black-and-white matter, Merrill said. It’s also a new one to him.

“We get calls all the time from people complaining that somebody is parking in front of their house for a prolonged period of time,” he said. “I don’t recall we’ve had to deal with somebody putting a sign up.” Parking services has received no actual complaint on this matter, he said — but if it did he’d probably have some parking services or city transportation crew take a look.

Parking services has received complaints about downtown businesses using orange cones to reserve their own parking meters or parking spaces downtown, he said. That too is illegal — and police were called in.