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Homeowners associations can’t stop police vehicles from parking in neighborhoods

The new law comes in response to a 2019 incident in an East Lake neighborhood.

A 2019 parking dispute in an East Lake subdivision has led to a newly signed law stating homeowners associations cannot ban marked police vehicles from parking in neighborhoods.

The bill, SB476, was authored by Palm Harbor senator Ed Hooper after a Clearwater police officer was told she couldn’t park her marked cruiser in her driveway at the Cross Pointe subdivision in East Lake. The HOA told her the cruiser is classified as a commercial vehicle, which are prohibited from being parked in driveways.

Hooper said the officer initially was issued a waiver when she began parking but then started driving an unmarked vehicle. When she returned to a marked cruiser, the HOA said it would no longer honor the exemption and threatened her with fines if she didn’t stop parking the cruiser there.

After the incident received some media attention, Hooper said the HOA yielded but indicated the next homeowner at the property would have to sign an affidavit stating they wouldn’t park a marked police vehicle in the driveway.

Hooper said it didn’t seem fair or make sense. Officers often take their vehicles home to have a quicker response time in an emergency, and a marked vehicle could act as a crime deterrent that doesn’t cost the HOA a penny, he said.

“I thought that seemed unfair, so we started making some inquiries,” Hooper said. “I’m surprised by how many emails and texts I’ve got saying, ‘I’d love to have a law enforcement vehicle in my neighborhood.”

While working on the bill, Hooper came across a 2005 legal opinion form then-attorney general Charlie Crist responding to a similar incident in the town of Davie. A homeowners association there was trying to fine an officer parking a marked cruiser in their driveway, claiming it qualified as a commercial vehicle.

Crist’s opinion said a “marked police vehicle assigned to a law enforcement officer does not constitute a commercial vehicle.” Crist cited existing Florida statutes that define a commercial vehicle as a vehicle operating for economic gain and states that government-owned and -issued vehicles are excluded from a commercial classification.

But, Hooper said, HOAs didn’t seem to get the memo.

“When I filed the bill, I found out it’s occurring at different spots all over the state,” he said. “Well, now that issue is fixed.”

SB476 explicitly states that marked law enforcement vehicles can’t be prevented from parking in neighborhoods. The bill was passed unanimously in both the House and Senate and quickly signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

To Hooper, it seemed like common sense.

“Government common sense doesn’t always prevail,” he said. “This time, common sense prevailed. And now it will be law July 1.”

Holiday Isles Management, which manages the Cross Pointe HOA, did not respond to a request for comment.