Buying Property With a Shovel

As snow continues to blanket much of the East Coast, a critical debate rages on: if you clear a parking spot, do you own it? Pittsblog lays out the arguments for and against the “parking chair thing,” the practice of claiming a spot with a chair after you clear it.? The pro-chair argument goes like this: “I cleared the spot; therefore I own the spot. And if I didn’t own the spot after I cleared it, then I wouldn’t have an adequate incentive to clear the spot. Moreover, the community benefits from my clearing the spot, because that’s one less spot that public authorities will have to clear.”? The anti-chair argument is a little more complicated.? Regardless of your stance, readers should note that retribution for ignoring the rules can be harsh.? (HT: Steven Bone)[%comments]


Here in Chicago, we call that "Dibs!" I can't wait for the comments from my fellow citizens on this!


To sum up the Chicago understanding of Dibs, may I refer interested outlanders to:,0,6293839.column


It should be noted that as far as local customs are concerned, in the city of Pittsburgh the chair rule is valid in any weather, 12 months a year. Incur the wrath of your neighbors if you dispute the norm.


This same debate raged in Boston, and residents of the DC area are only beginning to come to grips with it. My take is that no one owns the street, particularly in neighborhoods where people have private driveways. The law is clear on this. Now, what it means for common courtesy is obviously a different question. However, enacting "street justice" over a parking spot is illegal and should be handled as such. The extent to which people feel entitled is increasingly appalling.


Reminds me of the Adam Smith definition of property, something about mixing labor with resources?

I wonder why no parking-lot owners (that I know of) set up services to accommodate this system? I bet a lot of people would pay $5-10 for an impartial 3rd party to confirm their ownership of a shoveled parking spot over an agreed-upon snowy period of time. Rates could fluctuate based on how long the spot is recognized as belonging to the shoveler, and also on whether additional snow or thawing is expected in the near future.

Perhaps the lot owners derive a greater profit margin from clearing the whole lot themselves and then charging a premium for all of the spots? Yet as far as I know, the rates of a pay lot change based on whether there is an event going on nearby, not whether there is...well, weather.

Kevin H

I don't live in a snowy spot of the country, but you can definitely consider me a pro-chair supporter. That's the form of libertarianism I can get behind.


If you see that a person has put in the time and effort to clear the space in front of their house and then you park in it, you suck.

I don't think it should be illegal, but it's certainly a jerk move.

On the flip side, people get WAY too territorial over parking. You don't own the street parking, if you feel like you have to own a parking spot, I'd suggest purchasing property that has a driveway. If you know your neighbor is a jerk and will take your space if you shovel and leave it there, then don't shovel it.

I think I'm mostly just cranky today, but there are simple solutions.


Man those east coast people are such wusses when snow comes. Here in Wisconsin you dig yourself out and go on your merry way. Do they not have alternate side parking during winter or snow storms?

Also, I'm not buying the "one less spot that public authorities will have to clear" argument. If the plow is running down the street, its not going to care if 10 feet of road has less snow.


The biggest problem with the "pro-chair" argument is that it leaves no alternative. If I want to park on a street and see only spots marked with chairs or heaps of snow, if I respect the chairs, my only option is to park my car in the middle of the road, block traffic, and shovel out my own spot. Is this really a better solution?


Furthermore, most towns (not cities) have laws requiring cars to move off the roads so plows can plow the entire width of the road. This would result in spots for everyone. So, people who continue to park on the road in this situation are actually ruining the party for everyone. I realize this is not the reality in all areas, but it is true in many.

Also, why can't we extend this same logic to other parking situations? I have driven around the block for 30 minutes in Manhattan, only to see someone shoot right off the highway and into a parking spot just ahead of me. Am I somehow entitled to that spot because I worked harder than the other person, spending more time looking for it? Clearly, no one would say that I am. So why is the shoveling any different? Again, entitlement, which is simply a disgusting mindset to approach the world with.

Tom Woolf

The answer is "Yes - for that moment."

If I clear out a legal parking spot on a street, lets say in front of my home, then that spot is mine to pull in to. However, if I pull out and don't leave any marker, it is free for the next person to use.

FWIW - take my reading with a big grain of salt... Although I grew up outside of Buffalo, I have lived south of the Mason-Dixon line for over half my life. Besides, where I grew up you could not park on the road.... Well - you could, but the next plow to go by could very well take out the driver's side of your car.


No chair system like that in NYC. You can spend two hours shoveling your car out of 50 inches of ice and the moment you pull out of the spot there will be ten people trying to pull in. Which is how it should be. It is public property after all.


@Matt - When I lived in the Oakland area, the chair rule was not a year-round rule.

Personally I rented a parking spot. It was not very expensive plus I did not have to worry about snow, moving my car on Tuesdays or finding a spot if I came home late

Tom Benghauser

I would submit that BSK hasn't every spent much time in the REAL world.


I clear two spots. Enough people do this and there's no problem.


I believe that it is wrong to own a spot simply because you clear it. The only reason why one would do that is because they are benefiting from doing it. They save a spot closer to their house which saves them time but by doing so will anger those who owned the spot. Those who owned the spot now have to find another spot which they will chose to get those who are closer to their house that means that in general everyone will be fighting to get the best spot. In the end, everyone losses since they not only do not get to get the best spot but they lose the spot they owned. In the end only some will be better off but in general everyone will be worst off.
The only way to solve the problem is that each persons owns their own spot which is fairly close to their house. By doing so no one has to fight for spot and everyone gets the same benefit from doing so no one gets more and no one get less. If there is no one to enforce it that is when the government intervene which is good because if government do not intervene then many people will lose and only few will be better off. The street in these case will become a quasi public good as more people claiming their spot makes you worse off.



When do dibs end? 24 hours? When the city clears the block? Or do I get parking rights forever?


BSK: "This same debate raged in Boston ... My take is that no one owns the street, particularly in neighborhoods where people have private driveways. The law is clear on this."

You say that, and yet the City of Boston gives you 48 hours to reserve a space you cleared.


Having your car shoveled back in as retribution for taking a "reserved" cleared spot in front of someone's home is minor... a can of Mountain Dew poured on your windshield is much more problematic to remove in freezing temperatures and requires much less time/effort to apply.

Dan N.

What would you expect the cops to say about parking spaces since they always just double-park!