Regulating Commercial Vehicles

February 5, 2019

Many governing documents for community associations include provisions restricting "commercial vehicles" from being parked within the community. The intent of such provisions was to prevent the members from having to always see a large, sometimes-flashy, often-gaudy trucks or vans every day for the rest of their lives. However, often, the restrictions will not provide a definition as to what constitutes a "commercial vehicle." Treating a large 18-wheeler parked in the community as a violation seems simple enough. But, due to the growth of the internet and e-commerce, it's very easy and increasingly common for people to have businesses at home, and also want to promote their businesses, sometimes with a decal on their vehicles. The issue then is whether those would be considered "commercial vehicles" and whether parking them in the community should be treated as a violation.

In 2005, the Office of the Florida Attorney General issued an Advisory Legal Opinion tackling a related issue of whether a marked police vehicle constituted a commercial vehicle. Advisory Legal Opinion No. AGO 2005-36 (2005 Fla. AG Lexis 40). In coming to its decision that it was not a commercial vehicle, the Attorney General referenced various definitions of commercial vehicles found in Florida Statutes:

Section 320.01(26): "[A]ny vehicle which is not owned or operated by a governmental entity, which uses special fuel or motor fuel on the public highways, and which has a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more, or has three or more axles regardless of weight, or is used in combination when the weight of such combination exceeds 26,001 pounds gross vehicle weight."


Section 403.413(2)(c): "[A] vehicle that is owned or used by a business, corporation, association, partnership, or sole proprietorship or any other entity conducting business for a commercial purpose."

[T'he court stated that what sets personal use vehicles from commercial vehicles is not only their size, but the signage or lettering on the vehicle advertising their business.

Florida courts have looked to the definitions found in Black's Law Dictionary for Guidance. See Cottrell v. Miskove, 605 So. 2d 572 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992). Commercial is defined as relating to the buying and selling of goods, resulting or accruing from commerce or exchange, employed in trade, manufactured for the markets, relating to the ability of a product or business to make a profit or produced and sold in large quantities. COMMERCIAL, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Vehicle is defined as an instrument of transportation or conveyance or any conveyance used in transporting passengers by land, water, or air. VEHICLE, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). The court held in Cottrell that when combining the two words, they do not become vague, ambiguous or unclear. Id. In Cottrell the vehicles were pickup trucks used for the defendant owners swimming pool business; the trucks bore the pool-services name on the cab and on the rear of the truck and contained tools and supplies necessary for pool service in the exposed bed. Id. The court held that these were commercial vehicles because of the signage on the defendants truck and tools in the bed.

More directly, in an HOA case, in Shields v. Andros Isle Prop. Owners Ass'n, Inc., 872 So. 2d 1003, 1006 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004), the court stated that what sets personal use vehicles from commercial vehicles is not only their size, but the signage or lettering on the vehicle advertising their business. In Shields, the defendant car owned had signs hanging on the inside of their vehicle windows and the court held that this was not a violation of the covenants and restrictions but signs on the body of the vehicle would have been. Id. at 1006.

There are other cases as well where courts have reviewed similar provisions. In Wilson v. Rex Quality Corp., 839 So. 2d 928, 931 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2003) the court held that because the provision in question states “no commercial trucks (except small pickup trucks) shall be permitted, the defendant vehicle owners were allowed to place their small pickup trucks with commercial signage in their driveway. Id. The plain meaning of the words reflects an intent to permit certain commercial vehicle, i.e. small pickup trucks. Id. The vehicles in this case were a Chevy Astro Van that had Coca Cola signage on it and the other was a Chevy Pickup truck that had Pest Control Signage on it. Id. While the court did rule in this case that these 2 vehicles were not prohibited because of the exclusion of small pickup trucks, they still categorized them as commercial vehicles. Additionally, in Pelican Bay Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. v. Sedita, 724 So. 2d 684, 686 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1999), the lower court concluded that the defendant vehicle owners should be barred from parking their limousines in their driveway when they were being used to business purposes but they could be parked there when being used for personal reasons.

If you are having issues with enforcing a restriction on parking commercial vehicles, then you should first take a look at your governing documents to see if a definition is set forth. If not, then you can rely on statutory definitions or Black's Law Dictionary's definitions of such words. The main considerations appear to be 1) the size of the vehicle (which can be an objective measure), and 2) the purpose of the vehicle (which is more subjective). If there's a dispute, you should contact your legal professional for help in interpreting and applying your restrictions.

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