Community association regulation of parking on privately owned streets is common in Florida. Privately owned streets are most commonly found in condominium communities or gated neighborhoods. In those communities, the association’s governing documents dictate what can and cannot be enforced with respect to parking on the streets in the community.
However, community association governing documents often also contain prohibitions against parking vehicles on public streets within the community. This raises obvious questions regarding what authority community associations have to enforce such restrictions. Many communities erroneously assume those restrictions are not enforceable.
As of the writing of this article, no specific Florida statute or Florida appellate decision addresses the issue. In other states, courts have determined that prohibitions against parking on public streets found within a declaration of covenants and restrictions are enforceable. Although these cases are not binding on Florida courts, they can serve as persuasive authority. And, while Florida appellate courts have not directly addressed this issue, other Florida appellate decisions can inform the analysis.
In a recent decision, Pelican Creek Homeowners, LLC v. Pulverenti, Case No. 5D16-4046 (Fla. 5th DCA February 2, 2018), Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal reminded us of the complexity of the ownership rights between the community association and its members, as well as, between the owners themselves. In 1960, the developers of Morningside Heights at Pelican Creek Estates (“Pelican Creek”) platted land they owned and divided it into thirty lots, with a road down the center and two canals connecting to the Banana River, one on the north (“canal one”) and one on the south (“canal two”). The plat contained the developers’ dedication of streets, alleys, thoroughfares, parks, canals, and drainage easements to the perpetual use of the public. The developers also platted a ten-foot drainage easement (“drainage area”) along the north side of canal one and dedicated the easement to Brevard County for maintenance purposes. Brevard County subsequently relinquished the drainage area by resolution in 1980.
The Pulverentis own property adjoining, but not within, the northern boundary of the plat and drainage area. In 2006, the Pulverentis constructed a dock and boathouse on the drainage area. Pelican Creek Homeowners, LLC, (“plaintiffs”) filed an action against the Pulverentis to compel removal of the dock and boathouse from the drainage area. The trial court found in favor of the Pulverentis ruling the plaintiffs have no right to compel the removal of the dock and boathouse. This decision was appealed.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal found that despite ruling in favor of the Pulverentis, the trial court did not conclusively determine ownership of the property consisting of the northern boundary of the plat and drainage area, which it believed was necessary to resolve the issues in the lawsuit. The Court began by analyzing the type of dedications utilized by the developers of Pelican Creek. In particular, it differentiated between statutory and common law dedications.
The Court explained the two types of dedications as follows: (1) a common law dedication subjects property to a use easement; but, does not divest the owner of title; and (2) a statutory dedication pursuant to Section 95.361 Fla. Stat. may vest title in the named political subdivision and the recording of a plat that refers to such dedication provides “prima facie evidence” of a statutory dedication and transfer of title to the political subdivision.
The 1960 plat dedication did not refer to the statute or an intent to transfer title to Brevard County. As such, the Court determined that the Pelican Creek plat did not contain a statutory dedication, but instead a common law dedication. This meant title to the property remained with the developers at the time of the dedication.
Under Section 177.085, Fla. Stat., the transfer of property subject to a plat with a reservation for streets and easements creates a presumption that the abutting lot owners own to the center of the road or easement. However, in this case, the plaintiff’s property was on the edge of the Pelican Creek plat, which meant there was no abutting owner and no center line could be drawn between two lots.
In deciding to reverse the trial court’s decision, the Court ruled that the plaintiffs, who owned the property along the northern boundary and drainage area, were the only property owners that contributed to the creation of the drainage area, and therefore, they owned the entire area between their lots and the northern boundary including the drainage area. Furthermore, the court reasoned that since Brevard County vacated the dedication, public policy supported the plaintiffs owning an extension of their lots into the drainage area (to the edge of the Pelican Creek plat), because if not extended beyond the centerline, the other “half” would have no owner.
Pelican Creek Homeowners, LLC is very important to community associations when determining whether they can enforce parking restrictions on public streets. Most developers, perhaps at the request of the city and county, do not utilize the statutory dedication method and instead simply give an easement to the public for the use of the streets. More specifically, the Association, as the successor to the developer, or an adjoining owner may retain some type of ownership interest in the public streets. As a result, the community association may have far more control over the public streets than it may think.
This is a complex area of law. A comprehensive review of the governing documents and, in some cases, documents pertaining to the original development of the community is necessary when analyzing parking enforcement rights on public streets. Community associations are encouraged to work with its legal team to determine whether it has the authority to enforce parking restrictions on its streets even if the streets are public. It may turn out that the restrictions the community association thought were unenforceable have teeth after all.