Got a Permit for That Garage Sale?

‘Compliance … is necessary'

For decades, garage sales have been a popular way for homeowners to make money selling second-hand products.

But more and more, the neighborhood tradition has caught the attention of local governments, which have sought to regulate and charge permit fees and limit the number and duration of garage sales in their communities.

For example, in Garden City, residents have to pay a $6 fee for a permit that must be displayed “in a prominent location” on the premises of the sale. The city allows each residence just two garage sales a year with a third allowed if the resident is moving. The garage sale must be limited to three days. And sale items can’t be displayed in the front yard but must be placed near the garage or back yard.

The city of Garden City’s website states: “Your compliance with these rules and regulations is necessary in avoiding the disruption of the environment within residential areas that garage sales might cause.”

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The city of Dearborn charges $5 for the first garage sale permit and $15 for each additional permit issued in a year. The city also limits garage sales to two per year and limits their length to three days each.

The city of Westland charges between $12 to $35 for permits, depending on whether the permit holder is an individual or subdivision. Each household is limited to five sales per year.

Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst at Reason Foundation, which promotes individual liberty, said she can’t understand the motivation for limiting garage sales to just a handful a year.

“What are the local authorities worried about? Frivolous yard sales?” said Dalmia, who lives in Michigan. “Yard sales involve a lot of work and hassle for homeowners so it is not something that anyone holds for entertainment purposes. No. Folks usually organize them because they want to clear out the clutter in their houses and create order and space by getting rid of stuff that's sitting around and serving no purpose.”

Dalmia said garage sales are a spontaneous form of recycling in that they allow used consumer goods to be passed on from those who don't need them anymore to those who do. The sales provide an alternative to buying new items.

“Indeed, the more frequent the garage sales, the more recycling will happen and the less stuff will be dumped in landfills,” Dalmia said. “So it is weird that on one hand cities are trying to boost recycling and on the other curbing a natural and long-standing American recycling tradition.”

City of Westland Clerk Richard LeBlanc said he believed the permit process in his city came about after some residents complained of neighbors hosting multiple “or never ending” sales of “used goods in residentially-zoned portions of the city.”

“Speculating further, perhaps it was believed a permit could reduce or limit the occasions; thereby limiting an unappealing appearance on a lawn or in a driveway, the resultant traffic, and/or other unappealing attributes of commercial or business-like trade within a neighborhood environment,” LeBlanc said in an email.

LeBlanc said he served three terms as a city council member and received some complaints from neighbors about excessive garage sales.

The city of Westland does offer residents two specified weekends a year when they can have sales without a permit.

Dalmia said if a municipality can show that it bears a cost from residents hosting garage sales, then a small fee wouldn’t be unreasonable – making it akin to a user fee.

Westland City Council Member Kevin Coleman said there are no costs to city government due to residents having garage sales. Westland’s permit ordinance was passed in 2013. Coleman said he wasn’t on the council at that time but spoke out against it as a citizen.

“I opposed because I believe we have a right to resell our own property without government oversight or extra fees,” Coleman said in an email. “My opinion is that very few garage sales bring in more than $30-$40 total anyways, so a $15 is excessive.”

Coleman said he didn’t oppose a limit to the number of garage sales allowed by residents.

“There are a handful of residents that operate their driveways and front yards as ‘resale-shop’ type businesses,” he said. “This has been a nuisance to neighbors in the past.”

Officials from Dearborn and Garden City didn’t respond to emails seeking comment on their garage sale ordinances.

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