When people think of yard or garage sales, they usually think of an age-old American tradition where families make some extra cash by selling household clutter to willing neighbors and passersby. They don’t tend to think of hostile city code enforcement or exorbitant misdemeanor fines for selling your own belongings on your own lawn.
Yet that latter scenario is moving closer to reality in Arlington, Texas.
At a recent city council meeting, Arlington Code Compliance Director Mike Bass promoted a proposal to severely restrict residents’ ability to hold or advertise yard sales. The proposed ordinance, which Bass claims is the result of neighborhood complaints, would require families to obtain a permission slip from the city for each yard sale. Households would be banned from having more than two sales per year and limited to only a single advertising sign in a specific area of the yard.
This means people who want to have three more yard sales a year—whether because they need extra money to pay the bills or simply want a convenient means to meet more neighbors—could not do so without running afoul of the law. Likewise, anybody who put up a sign on a telephone pole or some other part of the community to inform people of the yard sale’s existence, time and location would be subject to criminal citations.
The limit on the duration and number of yard sales per year is an inexcusable attempt to punish people for responsibly using their own property as they see fit. Similarly, the proposal’s discriminatory ban on yard sale signs—which are treated differently than other signs under the city’s sign ordinance—blatantly violates First Amendment protections in the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys for the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed a lawsuit against Orange Park, Fla. for a law that similarly bans certain signs based on their content.
If Director Bass’s severe proposal were to become law, any violation would result in a “misdemeanor $500 fine” for every day that a yard sale is not in compliance. In other words, if a family were to hold a three-day sale in their yard under the “mistaken” belief that it was their basic right to do so without government interference, they could face a whopping $1,500 fine. If that same family put up an extra sign a week before the sale to give passersby details of the sale in advance, Arlington officials would put them on the hook for $5,000 to city coffers.
As Highland, California resident Nancy Domin learned when violating that city’s yard sale restrictions, residents who violated the new ordinance inadvertently—because they were never informed of it—would still be on the hook for potentially ruinous fines.
Unfortunately, Arlington isn’t the only city looking to trample on the constitutional rights of its constituents. IJ is currently defending a couple in Miami Shores Village, Fla. against that city’s restrictions on front-yard vegetable gardens. IJ attorneys are also defending a Dallas mechanic from the city’s attempt to shut down the successful business he built on the property he owns.