Citizen complaint of the day: Do Boston property lines extend into the street?


Remember when people only saved spaces in the winter? An aggrieved citizen reports from Samoset Street in Dorchester:

More parking cones. Doesn't seem to be getting the message.



Free tagging: 


I have a neighbor who does

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I have a neighbor who does this now. Before the cones, it was notes on the windshield of anyone who had the audacity to park in a public space in front of her house. The first time I got one, I took the time to knock on her door and explain that this was public parking, and while I agreed that it sucks not to be able to find parking near your home, we couldn't either, hence our parking where we had. She slammed the door in my face.

We, and several other neighbors, have continued to park there if the space was the best one available, and she started going around knocking on doors to demand that people move their cars. That didn't work. She tried calling tow trucks on people, and a tow guy knocked on my door once and said that she called to have them tow the car, and he was letting us know that he wasn't going to tow it, but she's crazy. Yeah, we knew that already.

Now it's become a cone situation. She puts her cones out every day, and every afternoon, someone who needs the space either just runs over her cones or gathers them up and places them on the sidewalk.

Parking is hard to come by, but if you end up living somewhere without a dedicated space, you park where you can, and that's that.

Property Lines

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With Boston, it could be tricky due to the fact that many street layouts date back centuries.

In general,streets, also known as rights-of-way (ROW)are either public or private. For the sake of this, let's assume that this is a public street. You'd have to check public records at the Registry of Deeds to see if there is a recorded layout for this street to be sure, but more often than not, a ROW will encompass not only the street itself (from curb to curb), but also sidewalks (to the back edge of them) and sometimes beyond.

Long story short, if it's a public way, she's got no right to reserve an area in front of her house, unless she has some sort of official permission (ie: Handicap space designation) from the DPW or Police Department.

private ways are not "private"

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They're public roads that were laid out by the city but paid for by private individuals. The road may lay on top of private property as well, but right-of-way is not determined by ownership.

A private way is fully open to the public and cannot be controlled, restricted, or reserved for private use.

A fully private road is one that is laid out by YOU *AND* paid for by you.

It is a common misconception that a 'private way' is not open to the public.

Private ways can restrict parking to street residents only

At least they can in Somerville. To park on Chester Place or Woodbine Street requires a special permit for that street -- not the regular Somerville resident parking permit which allows parking on any public street.

Anyone can walk, bike, or drive down the private way, but that doesn't mean you can park your car there. My understanding is that these private ways are jointly owned by all the abutting residential property owners.


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The city is supposedly able to take action against that sort of thing, but this sounds like weapons-grade crazy. What I've done in the face of extreme space-saving, after polite hints have failed, is just collect the space savers and drop them into the closest trash bin. City ordinance says anything left on the roads (aside from 38 hours after a snow storm, anyway) is trash, so really you're just helping the sanitation guys do their jobs :-)

The problem with this woman

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The problem with this woman is that she really, truly believes deep in her heart and soul that the space in front of her house belongs to her, and anyone who parks there is breaking the law. Bless her heart.

Same thing happened to me...

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Except the neighbor pulled a "Do you know who I am?". She was a lawyer in a fairly prominent case and was being interviewed quite a bit on TV. Then she told me going to have arrested for repeatedly parking in "her" spot. And was going to make my life a living hell.

A quick call to my community service officer at my police distict stopped her in tracks... I would recommend the same. The police take it VERY seriously if the neighbor threatens you with towing from a legal public spot. They paid her a visit and I did not need to give my name.

Did I mention she was also putting neon orange violation notes on the cars? Crazy crazy woman!

How old is she?

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If it's a elderly or disability issue she can go to City Hall and request a disabled parking space. City Hall is pretty liberal about giving them out to elderly residents who might have mobility issues.

That said, anyone else can go pound salt. The city needs to crack down on this space saving and property destruction vigilantism.

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The city will quickly and easily put up the HP sign if you let them know that someone who lives there or visits frequently has a placard, but you still need to apply for the placard and have a qualifying disability to get the placard.


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To be honest... I'd just start taking the cones. If they are so willing to just put them out on the public street- they must be fair game! You'd be surprised of how many dinging/lawn/beach chairs I've acquired since last winter.

Generation Gap

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It occurs to me that perhaps some of this is due to the very nature of car ownership in the city having changed over the years.

As a certified old fart, I can tell you that most families owned one car back in the 50's and 60's, IF they owned one at all. Therefore, parking was not as much at a premium in neighborhoods as it seems to be now when more people own rides. The idea that the space in front of your house was yours was never an issue that needed discussing.

(Cones or chairs sometimes came out in winter, but that seemed a reasonable thing when you had worked your ass off to clear a space. Sweat equity should be worth something.)

Times change, of course, but some folks don't realize why. Tough for some old-timers to understand that what was once a given - even if not legally so - no longer is.


Was thinking the same thing

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Those cones are taking up two spaces, not just one. Way to be greedy.

If you want people to take you seriously and not move your parking space markers, I have heard that Mary on the half shells work the best because people are afraid to move them lest they make baby Jesus cry.

By the way -- love that the Wikipedia entry from Mary on the half shell uses a picture from Somerville.

The city doesn't help

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If they insist on giving out valuable spaces for free, as they do, they should at least take stock of what they have and not hand out more permits than spaces.

Street parking alone can only provide 1 space per unit for densities of about 30-40 dwelling units per net acre. Depends on how you cut the blocks up, and what obstructions are there. Much of Southie is pushing that number. Parts of Boston like the North End and the Fenway exceed 150 dwelling units per net acre easily. So they're way beyond what street parking can support. The only way it works is if a large portion of the people who live there don't own cars.

There's every incentive in the world for people to grab as many permits as possible, and no incentive to not. So a shortage is inevitable.

Almost, but not quite

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You are sort of right about the issue, but I think you frame it badly. First, "the city" does not "give out" parking spaces. The parking spaces belong to the public. We, the public, acting through our elected government, can choose how we want to allocate them -- whether by first-come, first-serve, by permit, by lottery, by auction, etc.

Second, no matter how one allocates the permits, giving out only as many as there are on-street spaces is extremely wasteful of a scarce resource: people don't leave their car parked on the street all the time. So it is possible to give out permits in some multiple of the number of available spaces and still have plenty of space for everyone to park. Clearly 5:1 as we have it in the downtown neighborhoods is too much, but I'm sure if you give out 1500 permits for every 1000 spaces there would be no shortage, as some people are out of town, at work, etc. at any given time of day or night.

But you're right about the perverse incentive at work.


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Non-permit free parking could said to be a "common good" since it is non-excludable but rivalrous. Permit parking is, by definition, excludable so it is not quite a commons. We're talking about the latter on this street, so there is a sense in which they (OPC) gives out spaces on the street.

Nonetheless, I agree with you about having a slight overallocation to ensure more efficient usage of a shared resource. I didn't want to get into the details because the discussion is long. The city could be doing some studies if they really cared about trying to approximate the right factor, but they don't.

The whole debate can be viewed on a spectrum: should parking be entirely non-excludable, or entirely excludable, or something in between? Permit zones, as they get smaller and more fine-grained, become more and more excludable, until the logical end is reached: 1 zone = 1 space, 1 permit -- meaning entirely excludable parking.

Non-excludable parking is unreliable but flexible. Excludable parking is reliable but inflexible. Reliable meaning that you can be assured of finding a parking space when you need it.

I generally lean towards the reliable and predictable end of the spectrum here because of the side-effects of the unreliable parking supply. People getting into fights, or hostilities over spaces for one. More subtly, unreliable parking inspires people to squelch new development and growth in a neighborhood. I've lost track of how many times people at a community meeting complain about "new competition" for shared, unreliable parking spaces. I think this is a bad effect for the city overall, so the less of it the better.

I don't think we'll be seeing Tokyo-style proof-of-parking required anytime soon, although it is probably for the best in the long run. Perhaps, in the meantime, it would be a good idea to shrink the zone granularity, moving it closer to the excludable side of the spectrum. I know Pittsburgh does this, for example. And if the zones get small enough, a permit could be extended to a list of all zones within a certain radius of the vehicle owner's home.

Anyway, just thinking out loud a bit.

This isn't downtown

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Most of Dorchester, Roxbury, Rozzie, Westie, etc. aren't permit streets.

who occupies these places has changed too

The families that used to live in those houses and apartments and owned one car, have been replaced by groups of three or four unrelated adults sharing living space, all of whom own their own cars.


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"As a certified old fart, I can tell you that most families owned one car back in the 50's and 60's, IF they owned one at all. "

And now your generation bitches and moans about the cost of public transit, screams blue-bloody-murder about how "those damn bikers" are a menace to society (so why should they get bike lanes and cycleways and bike lockups)

...and your public officials are only happy to oblige because you vote at a high rate because a)the polling stations are located closest to your retirement/assisted living complexes (or in them!) and you all have so much free time on your hands.

All the people who rely on public transit and bike infrastructure are busy working their asses off.

Seriously, every time a bike infrastructure project is proposed and presented to the public, guess who shows up in droves to whine and complain? OLD PEOPLE. Guess what? If you let us all ride our effing bicycles in peace, there'd be more parking spaces for your V8 caddilacs you keep running us over in because you're all blind as bats.

...and you all have so much

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...and you all have so much free time on your hands

Your employer is required to give you time to vote on election day. That's not a valid excuse.


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Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 149 Section 178 states that employees working in manufacturing, mechanical or retail industries whose shift begins at 7 a.m. may not be required to work during the first two hours that polls are open – as long as the worker has requested a leave of absence in advance.

The law does not specify whether the leave is paid or unpaid. In all other industries, if polls are open two or three hours prior to an employee’s regular work hours, the employer is not required to provide time off to vote. Employers may require employees to request time off in advance

I don't buy that sweat equity

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I don't buy that sweat equity stuff. A person clears the space to get his car out so his work earns him the ability to drive his car and nothing more.

You're Entitled To Your Opinion

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If that's how you feel about it when you've shoveled your car out, more power to you. You're a good man who backs up his principles with action.

If you haven't done such work, though, you're talking out of your ass. I'll assume the former, and God bless you.


This reminds me of my parents' suburban neighborhood

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where parking your car anywhere except EXACTLY in front of your house is an affront to the neighbors likely to start a gigantic feud.

Even though the houses only have 1 car driveways. And you can't park slightly to the left or right of the exact front of your house without being behind someone else's driveway, which is also likely to spark a gigantic feud.

Privatized common spaces

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When I sit on a subway or bus and count the number of private conversations or in the seat dance parties going on I ask myself when did the subway or bus become extensions of the individuals' living rooms?

Same goes for spaces in front of houses. The informal belief that the space in front of a house belongs to the resident is no longer new. I heard a fellow scream at someone recently for parking in front of his house (though the screamer was drunk which might account for the tone). Around the corner from me was a three family where one resident claimed the space in front of the building with lawn furniture.

Same applies to folks who ride through stores in Segways or engage in conversations in museums and libraries. Public spaces are now temporary extensions of private space.

I completely agree

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I have been saying for some time that people now treat the T like it is their private living room, doing things like cutting toenails, flossing teeth, eating full meals with utensils, putting on makeup and carrying on extremely private sounding conversations on cell phones. They lack any sense of decorum at all. I wonder what makes someone sitting on the T suddenly decide that they absolutely must cut their toenails at that very instant? I even saw a woman plop down on a bench in one of the rooms of beautiful paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts and pull out a large bag of Doritos which she started chomping on and feeding to her children, who were spilling them everywhere.

Ongoing battle

This is an oft-repeated complaint. Full disclosure: as I've noted before, I know both the person who puts out the cones and the person who repeatedly reports this transgression to Citizen Connect. It's an ongoing battle.

This is a street near a Red Line stop. It is resident only parking, but (again) as I've noted before, anyone with a license, registration, and Dorchester address can get a Dorchester sticker. Dorchester is 1/3 of Boston so these stickers cover a huge area. Having your street be resident parking only is of limited help. Sadly this has led to many property owners paving their entire yards and putting in illegal driveways just so they have don't have to fight over parking.

I agree with Suldog that this was probably not much of a problem a generation ago, especially in a neighborhood where everyone knew everyone else and the "right" to park in front of one's own house was a given.

If the Dorchester permits are not keeping enough people away...

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Can residents petition to have their neighborhood designation for the permit changed? Like, have the city change the signs to say Ashmont, Columbia, or Savin Hill instead, and give out the permits accordingly.

I mean, it must have been done for the Leather District and Bay Village at some time. Those neighborhoods are surely not big enough on their own to merit their own areas for parking permits, but were clearly demarcated to maintain parking boundaries.

But then ...

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They won't be able to drive nearly into downtown and use their resident parking sticker to get free downtown parking.

It is Dorchester sticker, not a downtown sticker

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And how does one drive "nearly" into downtown for a "free downtown parking"? That logic does not quite work. If you are going to be snarky, at least double check your post. As a Dorchester resident, I would vote for neighborhood stickers.

So, you own the property and choose to pave

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over your yard to make it a driveway instead - so you have a predictable place to park your car.

If that contitutes illegal activity, then perhaps we as a society really do need to take a much closer look at our current laws.

Missing one thing

You can park on your yard as much as you want to. What you can't do is make a curb cut for an unregistered driveway and then complain when somebody parks in front of it. It's taking away a public parking space as surely as cones, and it's just as illegal.

I wish you were right about

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I wish you were right about parking in one's own yard... but sadly, we received 5 fines at $300 per day... and we don't even know who the parked car belonged to; and the City refuses to dismiss the fines. Welcome to the big city!

You want to hear crazy. Two

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You want to hear crazy. Two winters ago, the really bad on, one of my neighbors call the police because I was adding snow to an existing pile of snow that was in front of her house. And, I was cleaning snow from around a fire hydrant not from in front of my house. Needless to say the officer told her (much nicer that I) that I was not doing anything illegal. Don't give in to crazy.

Well, no its not illegal...

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But it's annoying. Can't you pile the snow in front of your own house? The fact that there's an existing pile testifies to the fact that she'd probably already shoveled and yeah--if you're the one who has to navigate around the twice-as-high pile on your sidewalk because your neighbor has decided to pig pile on YOUR pile...I'd be annoyed. Thankfully I have awesome neighbors and we each keep our snow to ourselves.


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I'm sure he could have just not dug out the hydrant, let it freeze, and laughed while her house burnt down.

This is the city, and with no plow to curb service we have limited options for where to put snow. As long as you're not dumping it into a cleared path, anywhere you can put it is fair game.


Did you not see the mention of removing snow from around a FIRE HYDRANT? As in this person was actually doing his/her civic duty -- something the person whose house it IS in front of should be doing him/herself? That person has no right to complain in this case. And yes, for the record, I live on street that had a horrific fire a number of years ago.


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It's calling the cops that's nuts. She could have just asked you.

Don't give into crazy, but be ready for the consequences.

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I didn't give into crazy (or nonsense) when I saw the some kid tagging a street sign for the second time in Lower Allston about 10 years ago.

I told him to knock it off. He yelled back at me. I told him I would call the cops if I saw him doing it again, and that I knew where he lived (I did).

His response? Well, apparently, he followed me to where I lived the next day, because there was $1,300 damage to my car the two days later.

Now, in retrospect, I realize I should have just broken his fingers - very badly. That would have at least made the damage to my car sufferable, and more importantly, I might have saved someone's life, because I have little doubt that this kid is now using them to fire weapons at people somewhere else in the city.

The point that I am not eloquently making is that you might want to be a bit cautious - you never know how people are going to react - even little old ladies. Someone above referred to her actions as "weapons-grade crazy". You never know - that might be right.

Just curious

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Since you knew where he lived, did you follow up with BPD?

Matthew, I didn't follow up, and here's the reasoning.

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I thought about it, but then I weighed the likely outcomes. The cops would have paid the kid a visit to let him know that they knew what he did, but then would have told me that they couldn't prove it and therefore it was case closed. Even if they could have built a case, it's not like the kid would have gone away for it. (I keep saying kid - he was a fairly grown 16-17 year old, which is still a kid, but we're not talking tweenie here.)

The result would have been that he would have still been living essentially right behind me, and would have gone through a lot of hassle, but would not have received any meaningful sanction.

My calculation was that would have led to an angry and emboldened young thug, who either by himself or with his friends would have been looking for retribution and to show how tough they were. I just wasn't willing to run the risk that next time they wouldn't go after only my property, and I didn't want to get to a situation where I had to be even more vigilant on my way home from the bus.