Residential neighborhoods often are protected by zoning ordinances, restrictive covenants and parking regulations. Zoning ordinances are created by the municipal governments of cities, townships, and boroughs. The ordinances regulate the use of land, declaring which areas are residential, commercial, or industrial. Special enterprise, agricultural, educational, or medical zones may exist in some municipalities.
Restrictive covenants are different. Deeds written to convey property from one owner to another may include language restricting the use of the property. In planned residential developments, a lengthy set of restrictive covenants may be recorded. Usually these covenants are not actually listed in the deed to each lot but are recorded in the county Office of the Recorder of Deeds and are simply referenced in the deeds. A prospective buyer or his or her attorney must read and understand all zoning ordinances and recorded restrictions to fully understand the permitted uses of a property.
Parking regulations are enacted by cities to control where certain types of vehicles can be parked. They will typically prohibit parking of commercial vehicles over a certain weight and size limit or place restrictions on days and times for parking in residential areas.
Violation of Zoning Laws
In two recent Pennsylvania cases, homeowners were prohibited from parking commercial trucks at their homes. In one case, the truck parking was found to violate the local zoning ordinance. In the other case, a set of restrictive covenants was deemed to ban truck parking.
In the zoning case, a homeowner regularly parked his truck in the rear of his home in a residential zone. The homeowner was a tools franchisee who sold and serviced commercial tools. His truck measured 16 by 10 feet and contained all of his tools and equipment, a telephone, a fax machine, and a computer. He kept all of his inventory in the truck and conducted all of his business out of the truck. The homeowner received about eight business-related mail packages per month.
After neighbors complained about the homeowner's business activities, he was cited by the local zoning officer for violating the ban on business uses in the residential zone. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld the zoning hearing board and found that the homeowner's receipt of business mail and his parking of the truck at his home violated the ban on business uses in the residential district.
In the restrictive covenant case, a homeowner sometimes parked his truck tractor and one or more trailers at his home in a planned residential development. He also sometimes repaired the truck tractor at his home. A lawsuit was brought against the homeowner by the Architectural Control Committee of the development. The Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the covenants that prohibited all uses except residential uses and that banned "tractors" and "trailers" were clearly violated by the homeowner. "Storage of heavy equipment is neither incidental to, nor customary in, a residential area," the court noted.
Most communities regulate parking for all vehicles. Restrictions on parking of commercial vehicles is just one part of those regulations. Certain cities, such as Haverford, Pennsylvania, prohibit commercial vehicles over a certain weight limit to be parked on residential streets. Other cities, such as Marple, Pennsylvania, allow for parking of commercial vehicles, but not over-night parking. Still other cities will allow commercial vehicles to be parked in residential areas, if a permit or an exception has been issued. If a homeowner needs to park a commercial vehicle in front of his property, it would be advisable to review the parking regulations of the city in question, to determine if such a permit is needed.
Litigation concerning the permitted use of residential property is complicated and is subject to many exceptions. Homeowners may be entitled to variances from zoning regulations, but restrictive covenants are subject to strict interpretation by the courts. Even if the zoning laws permit the commercial vehicle to be parked and there are no restrictive covenants, there could still be a parking regulation that would prohibit a commercial vehicle from parking on a residential street.
Before assuming that a particular use is permitted or prohibited, a homeowner should thoroughly review the zoning laws, all recorded covenants, the parking regulations and the history of the use of the property.