Just because it’s your property doesn’t mean you can do anything you’d like with it. Towns and residential communities ban all sorts of things from appearing in front yards, and by most accounts, enforcement of the rules is picking up.
The code enforcers around the country have recently targeted everything from tree houses to lemonade stands, and even if outright bans aren’t in place, homeowners are facing the annoyance of getting permits or variances just to do what they please on their own properties.
On the front-yard prohibited list are things such as:
Given America’s obesity epidemic, it seems odd that any community would risk being called anti-vegetable. And yet, as the New York Times detailed last December, gardeners—who “aren’t generally known for their civil disobedience”—have been ordered by local code enforcers to get rid of front-yard veggie gardens in places such as Orlando, Fla., Tulsa, Okla., and Ferguson, Mo. Officials in West Des Moines, Iowa, considered a front-yard garden ban recently, and a woman in the summer of 2011 Michigan faced 93 days in jail for refusing to dig up her garden.
The anti-garden forces say that raised beds and veggies are unsightly and should remain strictly backyard affairs. For homeowners who think otherwise, and who live in places where front-yard gardens aren’t prohibited, take note of tips for landscaping a yard so it’s both beautiful and edible.
Little Free Libraries
Last fall, the village of Whitefish Bay, Wisc., ordered a church to remove a mailbox-like structure on its front lawn. The structure resembled a mini-chapel, but was filled with books available to all comers, free of charge. There are hundreds of such “little free libraries” on private residences in Wisconsin, and thousands more around the globe. Yet, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, Whitefish Bay officials shot down one resident’s request to install a free library in his front yard. (The village bans all structures in front yards, even mailboxes.) And when it was brought to the village trustees’ attention that the Christ Church-Episcopal already had a little free library on its property, the church was told it has to be removed.
Residential communities are often riddled with strict rules regarding what owners must never allow passersby to see. In one of the more egregious cases, a woman in Port Orange, Fla., was recently told to “move visible statues including a pelican, egrets and a gnome” from her yard or face a fine. The woman was particularly upset because she was supposed to remove a white angel statue, less than a foot high, which was a gift from her recently deceased husband. Another resident said he was facing a $100-per-month fine if he didn’t get rid of a basketball hoop in his driveway. Meanwhile, reporters took note that the community’s homeowner association president had a decorative fountain and a statue of a cat in front of his house.
Many private residential communities ban clotheslines in yards as well, based on the idea that allowing Mother Nature to dry your clothes is bad for property values. But it’s not just homeowners associations coming down on clotheslines. Late last year, the village of Great Neck, Long Island, officially prohibited residents from hanging laundry in front yards.
Newsday noted that Southampton, Long Island, banned front-yard clotheslines in 2002, but later dropped the prohibition “after protests from impromptu laundry-rights activists.” In several other parts of the country, residents have petitioned officials to pass legislation that would ensure their “right to dry” with clotheslines.
After targeting front-yard clotheslines, Great Neck is reportedly planning on banning couches on front porches. If it does, the village will join places such as Durham, N.C., and Huntington, W.V., which have recently decreed that couches don’t belong on front porches or lawns.
Too Many Yard Sales
To stop residents from hosting nonstop garage sales—essentially turning their front yards into secondhand stores—communities around the nation have felt compelled to prohibit owners from having sales too often. The rules usually restrict homeowners to no more than two to four sales annually, and owners are often required to get permits. In Long Beach, Calif., for instance, a garage sale permit costs $17, the sale can go on for a maximum of three consecutive days, sale hours are limited from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and only two permits are allowed per residential address each year. Other cities charge just $1 for garage sale permits.
There are often other garage sale rules. In Pinecrest, Fla., owners will get in trouble if they use more than one sign to advertise their sale. Just one sign is allowed on the property, at a maximum size of 12″ x 18″.