California Town: Yard Sale Police

Yard sales: as American as hot dogs, baseball and apple pie. But like so many other innocent activities, yard sales are getting swept up in the ever-growing blob of government regulation. Towns are increasingly requiring permits for such sales, limiting their frequency, and even restricting their advertising.

That’s what is happening in Highland, Calif. The town recently enacted new rules that subject those who hold a sale without a permit to a $100 fine. Nancy Domin was just fined for exactly that, despite—unsurprisingly—having no idea the requirement existed. Because she cannot afford to pay the fine, she is being forced to spend the effort appealing the citation to the City Council.

What’s more, Highland only allows those holding the sale to advertise with one sign on their own property—no signs anywhere else, making it almost impossible to inform the community about the sale. Yet the town is perfectly fine with other for-sale signs, like open-house real estate signs, which are allowed to be posted both on and off the property. This is a violation of the First Amendment. The government can’t treat certain types of commercial speech better than others.

It is long time for government to remember they exist to protect the public from legitimate threats to the public welfare, not chip away at their citizens’ freedoms one trivial ordinance at a time.

— Erica Smith
Erica Smith is an attorney at the Institute for Justice

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