Can I Somehow Sic the City on My Neighbors Who Preserve “Their” Parking on the Street?

Parking entitlement, like implicit bias, is something we all find within ourselves from time to time.

A residential neighborhood in Northeast Portland. (Joseph Blake, Jr.)

My neighbors always leave their bins and even put cones out to preserve “their” parking in front of their house. Can I somehow sic the city on them and avoid any actual conversation on my part? —Passive-Aggressive in Portland

It’s something of a cliché to say that two people may interpret the same situation in very different ways. Take a recent news item, for example: One person’s “Sweeping Presidential Immunity From Prosecution Upheld” is another’s “Supreme Court Gives Biden Green Light to Order Jailing of Trump.” It’s all in how you look at it.

Viewpoints around on-street parking are similarly varied (though without those awkward visits from the Secret Service). Many consider such parking a right, but seen from a different perspective it’s really rather a remarkable perk. After all, nobody expects the city to provide free on-street storage for their 9-foot harpsichord, full-size Stonehenge replica, or pair of backup mash tuns. Somehow, however, when the item we need to store is a car, we start getting all bitchy and entitled.

Nothing against you, Passive! For the record, your neighbors do sound worse. Still, parking entitlement, like implicit bias, is something we all find within ourselves from time to time. I get variations on this question every few months (apparently I break down and answer one every seven years), and I’ll say it again: Residents do not exercise dominion over the public right of way in front of their house, no matter how many cones, trash cans and recycling bins they may deploy in it. On-street parking is first come, first served.

This means you are within your rights to move the obstacles and park in whatever legal spot you want. Doing so may well result in exactly the conversation you’re hoping to avoid, of course, but you might as well bite the bullet: Your chances of getting the city to censure or restrict your neighbors’ bin-strewing are remote. Unless they attack, threaten or physically restrain you, the authorities will tell you to work it out among yourselves.

Indeed, it may be worth heeding this advice and trying to see things from the neighbor’s perspective. Sure, you have a right to park in front of their house (and they in front of yours), but each of you may find smoother sailing by respecting the other’s wishes when possible. Before you judge the Fiat in thy neighbor’s spot, attend to the Winnebago in thine own.

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