Regulatory busybodies in Longmont, Colo., want to destroy Raymond “Rich” Smith’s windshield chip repair business. Why? City officials can’t decide.
For years, Rich has managed the operations of Longmont’s Countrywood Inn & RV Park. As a side job, he repairs chipped windshields from a van parked at the inn, which a police officer gave Rich permission to do. After receiving complaints (Rich suspects they’re from competitors), the city launched its crusade to end Rich’s business for good.
The city code enforcement office first cited Rich for violating the city’s ban on home-based businesses, but Rich’s repair service is located at a hotel, which the law exempts. Plus, if a city chooses to regulate home-based businesses, those laws must be designed to keep residential neighborhoods free from genuine nuisances such as excessive noise or noxious chemicals. Since Rich’s hotel is in a commercial district with numerous businesses, banning his repair service on these grounds is silly.
Longmont then cited Rich for repairing motor vehicles outdoors—which city law prohibits in commercial but not other areas—even though windshield chip repair isn’t really automotive repair. But the code enforcement department changed its mind and alleged that Rich’s chip-repair business was not allowed anywhere at the hotel, contradicting the opinion of police.
The city then filed a criminal complaint alleging that Rich failed to get special approval for his business. The same complaint contradicted previous government orders and alleged that Rich’s repair service was banned entirely because “conducting a mobile auto repair business…is not permitted in any zoning district within the City of Longmont,” even though the law is silent on mobile auto repair.
These complaints defy logic. Rich couldn’t have possibly obtained permission for operating a banned business. Furthermore, an activity isn’t banned simply because the law doesn’t mention it.
The city government can’t decide what Rich is doing wrong, suggesting that it shut him down first and sought to justify it later.
Ultimately, despite the absurdity of the allegations against him, Rich was convicted of the “crime” of mobile windshield chip repair. He now faces a $385 fine and a year of probation, during which he is forbidden from repairing windshields.
City officials are trampling on Rich’s constitutional rights. The city alleges that he cannot operate his repair business solely out of a van because of the hazards inherent in conducting auto repair outdoors. But the hazards that can accompany car repair, including noxious chemicals and fumes, are not present in windshield chip repair. In fact, windshield chip repair kits are sold in any auto parts store and are safe enough for an amateur to complete at home.
The city claims that Rich can repair windshields from his van if he also has a brick-and-mortar location like the big, nationwide chain Safelite he competes with. But requiring Rich to construct a separate building that he will never use does nothing to protect people’s health or safety. For this reason, the city’s order violates the state and federal constitutions, which require regulations to have a rational basis. Besides, it’s not clear that city law actually requires Rich to have a brick-and-mortar location anyway.
Longmont’s laws are unconstitutionally vague as well. It’s not clear that Rich is operating a “mobile auto repair” business since his van is always parked and he only repairs cracks in windshields. Given the city’s ambiguous laws and conflicting orders, Rich may not have known he was breaking the law in the first place. City officials have no right to arbitrarily punish a particular business based on unconstitutional laws and unwritten rules.
No American should be prosecuted for safely and fairly earning an honest living. Have bureaucrats gone rogue in your town as well? Tell us here.
— Joseph Kessler
Joseph Kessler is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice