I know when we tend to write about awful HOAs and their often very anti-gearhead rules and restrictions, a common refrain in the comments is that people who want to work on cars shouldn’t live in places with HOAs. Fair enough. But this time, it’s not a neighborhood association with the anti-automotive rules, it’s an entire city, and it’s very bad news for people who love cars.
The city in question is Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the ordinance is pretty clear and straightforward:
Vehicles may not be parked in yards or on unpaved surfaces; vehicles must be parked within the garage or on a hard-surfaced driveway.
No more than two vehicles per dwelling unit, with proper driveway surface, may be parked outdoors on a property. Excess vehicles may be towed.
So, this isn’t about half-rusted-out cars being parked on lawns, or set on blocks, or in big, smoldering piles; the wording of this ordinance makes no mention about if the cars are operable or legally registered or not—it’s just talking about cars, any cars, and that can include perfect-condition, legally-registered cars.
It was just that situation that prompted this City Pages story today: a family lives in a house in Northeast Minneapolis, and that house has a large rear driveway, one easily able to accomodate six cars. The family has seven people, with five cars among them.
On January 2nd, the family got a notice that they could only park two of their five cars in their massive driveway. So, they parked three of the cars on the street, like good citizens.
Then came a big snowstorm on January 15, so they got all the cars off the street and into the driveway, because that seemed to make the most sense: keep the streets clear for snowplows and others when the weather makes driving more difficult.
For their efforts, the City of Minneapolis fined them $200.
The homeowner here is not alone; since the beginning of last year, the city of Minneapolis has issued more than 275 fees for this particular ordinance, according to City Pages.
In an email to City Pages, city communications director Greta Bergstrom said that the ordinance exists to “ensure residential lawns do not become parking lots.”
More than two cars hardly seems like a “parking lot.”
The ordinance seems needlessly draconian and raises many, many questions. What if the house is occupied by, say, four adults, each of whom has a car? The ordinance effectively eliminates the option of having a project car or a fun third car for houses without garages. That’s ridiculous.
Maybe an ordinance like this could make sense if they specified how many cars one could park in a given area of driveway. That way, people with large or multiple driveways could park more than two cars, and not have vast areas of driveway going to waste.
I myself have a house with two driveways, and I have six cars parked here now, three in each driveway. I don’t feel like I live in a parking lot, and, as someone who loves cars, my two driveways with only one car in each would feel like a tragic waste.
Also disturbing is the mention in the ordinance that states that “excess vehicles may be towed.” This seems like a criminal overreach of government. Is that really saying the city can tow away a car that’s legally registered to a resident, right off their own private property? That seems insane.
To confirm the towing issue and the overall status of the ordinance, I reached out to Casper Hill, Media Relations Coordinator at the City of Minneapolis. Here’s what his answers to my questions were:
Confirming that this in the books. This is a zoning code: 541.450 - Maximum number of vehicles for dwellings. The total number of vehicles located on a zoning lot shall not exceed two (2) vehicles per dwelling unit, excluding those parked within an enclosed structure. For the purposes of this section, accessory dwelling units shall not be considered a dwelling.
How often does the City enforce this ordinance? Residents are first sent warning letters. After two warning letters, violators are cited.
What if there’s a single-family home with three adults living there? Residents always have the option of parking in an enclosed structure, such as a garage, or on-street parking in Minneapolis. Most single-family homes in Minneapolis have garages. Residents in these homes can park vehicles to the capacity of their garages, plus have two vehicles in their driveways. So a single-family home with a three-car garage could have five cars on the property and be in compliance.
What if someone is working on a car? Minor work, such as changing a tire changing out wiper blades, is allowed. However, more extensive auto repair is not permitted in residential districts. There could be environmental damage due to spilled oil or other fluids, either in the yard or getting into the stormwater system.
The ordinance mentions that vehicles in violation could be towed. Would the City actually tow legally registered vehicles off of private property? Pursuant to Minneapolis ordinances (MCO § 478.1042) the City only tows when authorized by State law, and towing a vehicle from a private residence for being in violation of the vehicle limit would not be authorized.
So, that’s good news at least that the city wouldn’t be able to tow your car off your own private property, at least. The part about “extensive auto repair” not being allowed in residential districts is more troubling, and I think would come as a shock to the many, many people in Minneapolis who routinely work on their own cars at home.
This is an incredibly unfriendly law to automotive enthusiasts, who very, very frequently have more than two cars. That includes ones who have no garage, as garage ownership should not be a limiting factor for someone who wants a project car.
If you have a driveway on your own property, I just can’t see the harm in keeping however many cars you can comfortably fit in it. And I don’t understand why the city should care.
Plus, this ordinance doesn’t factor in the reality that many homes with driveways—and not necessarily garages—are occupied by multiple adults with cars. Or, what about families with kids who live at home and reach driving age? Why should a child’s first car mean a parent or the child no longer has access to the driveway, regardless of how much room may be available?
This law is stupid. If you’re the sort of person who gets the vapors if you see a home with more cars than you have nostrils, move to some gated community with a restrictive HOA. Or some island without cars. I don’t care.
But, for a major American city, this is absurd.