By Max Cherney

Parking in San Francisco is a massive pain in the ass. It’s ruining people’s love life, maybe getting worse, and can be expensive — as in the infamous $82,000 parking space. And of course there was that recent study which ranked San Francisco the third worst in the nation to park a car.

Enter Carmanation. It’s a San Francisco-based tech startup founded in 2013 by Ilya Movshovich and Ashley Cummings that aims to help solve San Francisco’s parking problem by, you guessed it, tapping into the “sharing economy.” 

The concept is pretty simple. If you have a parking space, Carmanation makes it easy to list and rent, Airbnb style. And then, of course, people will pay cash in order to use it when you aren’t (there’s an option to give your space away too). The company has added a twist as well — should you feel generous. It lets you donate the money earned from renting a parking space to a charity of your choice — it has five local non-profits signed up right now, and is looking to add more, depending on what people ask for.

Cummings told me that after Carmanation’s private test was successful, the company is now ready to let San Franciscans try it out. “We’re very new,” she said, “most people complain about parking, and the city has no problem increasing the cost of parking.” 

It sounds like it could be a decent idea, but, much like well publicized eviction threats over Airbnb rentals — and issues with hotel taxes — I figured Carmanators may run into similar legal issues when listing a space. So I talked the concept over with Marc Branco, an attorney who specializes in tenant-landlord disputes.

He told me that it likely comes down to the lease agreement for the parking space. For commercial garages that’s pretty straightforward (make sure you’re allowed to sublet), but for residential units, parking space rules are usually explained in the lease. “Before listing you spot on Carmanation,” Branco told me over the phone, “I recommend that you have a qualified attorney review your lease agreement, and also discuss renting the space with your landlord.” Pretty standard legal advice, but sensible since this is a really new idea.

The other thing wanna be Carmanators should consider is all the necessary paperwork from the city that may be required. “Business licenses for operating a parking facility may also be required,” Branco told me, “and there are likely other rules and laws governing the practice leasing parking spaces.” As in, if you start making money with your parking spot, the city government might want to tax and regulate it, just like it did with Airbnb.

Carmanation is definitely aware of the potential concerns, and Cummings said that the company is going to work hard to make sure users are well-armed with all the information they need. So, if this parking startup can successfully navigate the regulatory minefield that’s plagued other sharing-economy startups, it might just make a dent in the city’s lack of available parking.

Photo by Tony Webster