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A skirmish over no-parking signs between a group of Indian Land residents and their homeowners association came back to Lancaster County Council earlier this month.
At the forefront of the debate, about whether an HOA can post no-parking signs along county roads and subsequently tow those cars, is Panhandle resident Erwin Feiner, who lives on Largo Lane in the Arlington neighborhood.
Feiner spoke during council’s March 11 meeting, a little more than a month after he first brought the problem to council’s attention.
“(District 7 Councilman) Brian Carnes understood the problems we are having and I thought we had resolved the problem,” Feiner said. “Unfortunately, our homeowners association board does not want to accept (County Administrator Steve Willis’) ruling. I’m here to ask for help on what do we do next.”
Feiner became concerned in January after noticing the posting of several no-parking signs along roads in his neighborhood in the northern end of the county, just off S.C. 160 and a few miles from U.S. 521.
His concern turned to anger once he learned cars were being towed from those newly designated zones, especially since he said there is limited parking in the neighborhood.
Following conversations with county officials, HOA representatives and members of the S.C. Department of Transportation, Feiner urged council to clarify what authority an HOA has over no-parking signs and their enforcement.
While council members did not discuss or vote on the issue during their Jan. 28 meeting, county officials met soon after with county attorneys to draft a formal opinion on the matter. The opinion was later sent to representatives of Arlington’s HOA.
Feiner told council during the March 11 meeting that the formal opinion has not changed the situation in his neighborhood and asked for further suggestions.
“If there is a statute or ordinance on the books that says no private organization can post signs on county roads, can we use that?” he asked. “If that’s the case and they still do it, maybe there can be fines per day. That’ll get 'em to move the signs.”
He also referenced a recent HOA newsletter he received that detailed the new towing efforts.
“Everything Mr. Willis said they are not abiding by. I don’t where else to turn,” Feiner said.
Council did not take any action during the meeting.
Carnes said March 20 that he was aware of the situation, but had not yet spoken to members of the HOA.
“I know they had an HOA meeting last week and that’s where Mr. Feiner went to before coming to council,” Carnes said.
Carnes, who represents that area of the county, has met with both the Arlington HOA and county staff to discuss the issue. Carnes said the genesis of the issue was a recommendation from the county’s fire marshal to post the signs to allow greater access for fire trucks and emergency personnel.
After speaking with the sheriff’s office about enforcement and consulting with attorneys on the county’s code, Carnes said the county sent a formal opinion to the HOA regarding no-parking signs and county roads.
“In the opinion, we said the HOA may be able to tow a resident of the community, but if you tow someone from outside the community, there may be grounds for a civil lawsuit, though it depends on language in their HOA documents,” Carnes said. “But the HOA is a legal entity in South Carolina and they have the right to write rules and regulations.”
So far, Carnes has heard that at least 20 cars have been towed from private side streets in the neighborhood, though he hasn’t heard about any towing along county roads.
“As far as I know, that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.
Though there are about five county roads running through the neighborhood, Willis said the majority of the roads there are private. He said if the HOA wants to tow cars on private property, “that’s their call.”
Having listened to the concerns of several Arlington residents, Willis tells them he understands the problem, but said the county does not regulate HOAs.
“We can’t tell them what they can and can’t do,” Willis said. “If they choose not to follow our opinion, well, that’s not the first time our opinion has been turned down and it won’t be the last.”
He said the county code currently does not address parking issues and enforcement, though a draft parking ordinance will be presented to council sometime in April. Willis and other county staff are developing the wording of the ordinance now. It would address parking enforcement and would be modeled in part on a similar ordinance in Rock Hill.
“But there is one thing it will not address. State law regulates when law enforcement can tow cars, but it doesn’t regulate when a private organization tows cars,” Willis said. “So, ultimately, it will go back to the contract (residents) signed when they moved into the neighborhood. If it’s listed in the contract, they (the HOA) may be able to do it (tow cars). That’s a voluntary contract you entered into.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416