Banning Sofas and Easy Chairs
I want to clarify my position on an ordinance proposed by council member Hofstede regarding furniture in yards and on porches.
The specific proposed amendment adds the following language: Any upholstered furniture not manufactured for outdoor use, including upholstered chairs, upholstered couches, and mattresses placed in any front yard, side yard or rear yard abutting a street or on any opened porch exposed to the elements, shall constitute a nuisance condition.” According to discussions at the committee an exposed porch includes any porch that has a roof and railings but it not fully enclosed with windows or screens.
I have listened carefully to the concerns and reasoning behind this proposal and can appreciate the good intentions of those who are supporting and bringing this idea forward, but I can't support this proposal as presented.
I am willing to support the portion that restricts the use of upholstered furniture (not specifically manufactured for outdoor use) on lawns and in yards. Though I believe we have ordinances in place that allow us to address nuisance conditions, I can understand the desire for more specificity.
However, after quite a bit of consideration, talking to others and after looking at porches throughout Ward 2, Minneapolis and St. Paul, I have decided that I cannot support the proposed new prohibition on upholstered furniture on open porches.
My position on this became clear to me the other morning when the sun was making a much-appreciated appearance after several days of cold and rain. After I had dropped my son off at school, I was heading back to my car and looked across the street to see a small group gathered on their porch talking, enjoying the sun and relaxing. I was struck by the fact that this is exactly what we want to be happening in our neighborhoods, and that this is one of the things that is so great about our city – people out enjoying the springtime, using their front porches, building community.
I had seen this house and this porch many times, but now, because of this proposal coming before the Council, for the first time I paid attention to the type of furniture. Indeed, it was one of those overstuffed older couches. Undoubtedly, it has served its previous owners well in a living room in the past and now it has found another year or two of worthy service on this porch. It exhibited no tears, no mold, no mice, no fires.
Seeing this and thinking back to all the hours I have passed on soft sofas on porches in Minneapolis I once again searched for the justification for banning such a practice and I could not find it.
Instead I concluded the following:
- There is a clear public safety benefit when residents choose to spend time on their front porches. The concept of "eyes on the street" is an important cornerstone of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design principles. I believe that placing barriers to people sitting on front porches will do more harm to our communities than good. I have heard very similar sentiments from many residents, from Seward to Cooper to Marcy Holmes.
- I am unable to find, and no one has presented me with any evidence that shows that upholstered furniture on porches negatively impacts property value or homeownership rates, or constitutes a public health or fire risk. The Fire Department's review proves that the fire risk from upholstered furniture on porches is negligible. Given the fact that harm has not been proven, I believe that our default should be to allow residents to use their property in harmless ways that they enjoy.
- We should all be working for greater economic justice in our City. Laws that are unfairly targeted towards poor people need to be resisted. Under this proposal, those who can afford furniture that is specifically manufactured for outside use will be able to enjoy their porches, while those who have less money, but are still able to find affordable alternative, will be targeted.
- It is environmentally wise to reuse manufactured goods when possible. Adaptive reuse of old couches which may not be fit for interior use helps extend their life for a few more years, preventing them from entering the waste stream.
Finally it is important to note that the existing nuisance code allows our inspectors to cite residents for keeping "foul or unhealthy material" or "any other condition on said premises, in such a manner as to constitute a nuisance" on their property. That means that if a couch or chair is found to be broken, moldy, pest invested or otherwise “foul,” “unhealthy” or a “nuisance,” we already have the authority to have it removed. Clearly this gives us the requisite legal authority to address couches on porches that are actually a problem.
If there is problem with an unkempt porch we can already take action, and we do. We can also improve our enforcement efforts and I am committed to help do that, but I cannot in good conscience vote to support this ordinance amendment as long as it contains the provision to ban couches from porches.