A good parking space is a valuable piece of real estate, so much so that some people are willing to pay for illegal handicapped parking permits.

There's a black market in the region for stolen or counterfeit handicapped parking permits, transportation experts say, as drivers look for inexpensive and convenient ways to park along the traffic-ridden streets of Maryland, Virginia and D.C. -- and to avoid hundreds of dollars in parking fees, according to John Townsend, spokesman for AAA-Mid Atlantic.

"Parking spaces in the 17,000 spaces in the District are so rare that you have to circle and circle the block to find one," Townsend said.

A neighborhood in Suitland, Md. was hit May 2 by burglars who smashed in car windows parked along the 6300 block of Maxwell Drive, stealing handicapped permits rather than valuables and car electronics, according to Prince George's County police.

The spree wasn't the first report of stolen handicapped permits in the county -- police arrested a 19-year-old Temple Hills man in 2009, who was found with 19 stolen parking permits.

The permits were being sold to opportunistic motorists looking for free parking spaces for roughly $50 apiece.

Officials with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration said they don't know how many stolen placards there are in the state, but motorists are encouraged to report permits as lost or stolen so police can determine if a permit is being used by the person to whom it was issued, according to spokesman Buel Young. - Ben Giles