News & Politics

Is It Okay to Save a Parking Space That You’ve Dug Out of the Snow?

Photograph by Coast-to-Coast, via iStock.
Umbrage Court

About Umbrage Court

Umbrage Court adjudicates the extremely minor problems of urban living and strives to bring clarity to the Urban Compact. If you have business before the court, please email [email protected].

Comes now a citizen with a complaint for Umbrage Court:

Dear Umbrage Judge Beaujon-

I was out digging my car out from the snow this morning and noticed my neighbor had already done the same, and had reserved the empty spot by putting deck chairs there, so nobody else could part where he had shoveled. What is your take on this practice? Is he entitled to save the spot after he spent a few minutes clearing out his car? Or is a public street a public street, regardless of whether you happened to park there during a snowstorm? Is there some amount of snow that has to be on the ground for this to be an acceptable practice?


I. Factual Background

Parking is one of the most common friction points of the Urban Compact, the unwritten set of rules that let us live in crowded urban environments without killing one another. Snow, in this court’s experience, is an unparalleled accelerator of conflict. Did your neighbor use non-environmentally sensitive ice melt on her sidewalk? Was that his dog who made an unsightly pee-tunnel in the middle of the beautiful blanket of white in front of your house? Do you have to shovel your neighbor’s walk forever because they did yours once?

And, perhaps most important: Do you own a parking spot now once you’ve shoveled out your car?

II. Analysis

Legally, no. It’s not even close. But as anyone who’s ever asked someone to hold their place in line knows, there’s the law, and then there are the rules. Rules vary among neighborhoods, but the rough contours of the Urban Compact with regard to parking spaces are these:

  • If you dig out a space, it’s yours
  • But: There’s a poorly defined time expiration clause
  • It’s okay (if psychologically a bit worrisome) to let a poacher know you’ll shovel the snow back around their car if they take your spot
  • But: This isn’t Boston, so you can’t smash their windows, or shoot them.

III. Conclusion

Taking an 18-inch Arctic Blast snow shovel with steel wear strip to the slushy space between these norms and the law, your Umbrage Court sees a possibility for peaceful compromise. Therefore, the court finds:

  • That you and your neighbors must dig out every car on your side of the block. Even the ones belonging to those jerks down the block. Bring out some drinks (perhaps snow bourbon cocktails?), maybe let your dogs run around, make it a party. Then everyone can get out if they want, and there’ll likely be plenty of spots.
  • That you should consider posting signs around the neighborhood (please take care not to injure trees) appealing to non-residents’ better natures.
  • That you must limit motor trips and ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your spot when you absolutely have to go out. (Neighbors shouldn’t encourage “savesies” in the spot—chairs, ironing boards, toilets—but they shouldn’t get involved if someone is determined to use one. The Law of It’s Not Worth It supersedes most of this court’s rulings.) They will not speak to any interlopers (again, Not Worth It), but they can grab a chair and sit out in the space if they have nothing better to do.
  • That any moral claim to your handiwork expires 48 hours after the snowfall ends or one-and-a-half hours’ absence, whichever comes first.

So ordered. 

The court also encourages you to sign up to help shovel out neighbors who need help, via an initiative like DC’s Volunteer Snow Team or Alexandria’s Snow Buddy program.


Umbrage Court adjudicates the extremely minor problems of urban living and strives to bring clarity to the Urban Compact. If you have business before the court, please email

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.