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Residents must play by city rules for garage & yard sales

POSTED June 6, 2012 8:20 a.m.
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Garage sales - also known as yard sales, attic sales, barn sales, moving sales, and estate sales - are regulated by city municipal codes in most all communities around the state. And while garage sale permit requirements are commonplace, it seems that few people are aware that a city permit needs to be obtained in order to have a garage sale.

The reasons for the permit requirements are to minimize the impact on residential neighborhoods. Areas zoned for residences purposely exclude ongoing business activities, unless there is a conditional use permit - and such permits are issued only when the business activity is deemed to have no adverse effects on the quality of life. Some people use their home garages as ongoing weekend sales outlets, not unlike a regular business. Vehicular traffic, noise, and neighborhood disruption are the result of these activities, which causes neighbors to complain. The permit requirement also helps the city to regulate the number of garage sales at any one location. No more than two garage sales can take place every 12 months at any one residence. To try to do otherwise requires a conditional use permit (CUP), which is unlikely to be issued given the intended atmosphere for the neighborhood environment.

Another justification for the permit is that once the garage sale becomes a regular activity at a residence, it becomes a de facto business. All businesses are required to pay business license fees and mill taxes. Garage sales that have morphed into a regular business "below the radar" fail to pay the applicable license fees and taxes, which is unfair to compliant businesses and tends to undermine them.

Code enforcement personnel monitor garage sales for possible stolen property. With the garage sale permit requirement, it helps enforcement personnel to keep track of this potential problem and make it more difficult for persons to sell stolen property under the guise of it being lawfully owned and just "surplus" property that a resident wishes to dispose of.

Another problem relating to garage sales is the illegal posting of garage sale signs on public property. This would include attaching signs to poles or posts for traffic control signs, street lights, traffic lights, telephone poles, sidewalks, streets and private property fences. Getting a permit also helps ensure prospective garage sale operators know what the applicable rules are, such as the illegality of placing signs on public properties. Unfortunately, too many people fail to remove their signs after their sale dates, leaving eyesores all around the community and a costly removal process for city staff, plus damage to the poles/property.

A garage sale permit for a residence costs only $5, and can be obtained at the city's finance department during normal business hours.

In the event that a garage sale takes place without a permit, or if signs are placed illegally, the responsible party will likely receive a citation from code enforcement personnel.

The city does not object to garage sales; in fact, they are a perfectly normal community activity. The city only wishes to keep neighborhoods safe and free of excessive disruption, curtail the stolen property sales problem, eliminate blight as the result of illegal signs, and that ongoing "garage sales" that are really businesses in disguise are appropriately addressed.

If you have questions or wish more information about this subject, view the Ceres Municipal Code online at

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