Urban China has undergone a transformation and joined the parking masses.
Until the 1990s the state owned almost all urban housing. Most residents lived close to their state-assigned workplaces.
In recent years, along with the sweeping privatisation of almost all urban housing, a new force has emerged: landlord committees, many of them formed spontaneously by home-owners to protect their new assets.
The fight for control of parking spaces is one of the many modest causes that have brought a change in the urban mentality—beyond a consciousness of limited legal rights, to a growing awareness of the need for a more active ‘civil society’ as a balance against arbitrary officialdom.
China is accommodating these new middle classes whose support is considered vital by Chinese leaders to the maintenance of Communist Party rule. Five years ago it allowed private business owners to join the party. Later this year it plans to revise its charter to show that ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, to which China still lays claim, does not mean attacking property owners or nicking their car parking space.
In March this year, despite vocal opposition by party conservatives, the leadership ensured passage of a new property law in parliament.
The provisions were intended to address the root cause of the parking-space battles, namely, the lack of any clear ownership rights. A developer would usually proceed on the basis that, save for the apartments themselves, any other land and buildings on an estate could be exploited as he saw fit. Home-owners found they had little say in the price of a parking space, and no way to prevent spaces being sold or rented to non-residents.
Some estates became jammed with cars parked randomly by residents trying to save money; reserved spaces are often sold at prices equivalent to that of a new car.
Private passenger car ownership reached nearly 11.5m last year, more than one-third higher than 2005’s level.
The new law makes clear that parking spaces occupying what the law considers to be land owned collectively by the home-owners, such as roads within estates, are also collectively owned.
This is amazing stuff. It means the developer cannot rent out car parking spaces with no regard to the tenants. It obliges developers to give priority to the parking needs of estate residents.
Developers remain an obstacle. Faren magazine, a legal journal, said this month that out of 3,000 residential estates in Beijing, only 500 had set up landlord committees. It quoted legal experts as saying this was because developers and property management companies often refused to cooperate with them. When it comes to developing democracy, China’s new capitalists can be as obstructive as old-style communists. The battle for the car park may well end being a war for car parking rights.
Source: The Economist