About three times every week, Domingo López arranges dozens of t-shirts, pants, books and toys in front of his Little Havana home and sells them for 50 cents to $3.
López, 48, said he uses the money he earns to buy food, coffee or cigarettes. He said he finds most of the merchandise on the street or receives it from others.
“People come because I sell cheap. I’ve been doing this for years,” López said Friday. “Sometimes they come without money and I give them clothes and toys to the children.”
López’s type of business is also seen in other low-income neighborhoods in Miami, where garage sales have become a way for buyers to find useful items and sellers to earn extra income.
Now city commissioners say that this practice has gotten out of hand and they want to regulate it.
Last week, the Miami City Commission approved an ordinance on garage sales, eliminating the $28 fee for a permit, but adding a $50 fine for those who have more than two sales a year. Among other penalties, the owner who has a garage sale without a permit will not be allowed to apply for a new permit for a year.
People who live in a multifamily building must obtain approval from the property owner before applying for a garage-sale permit.
Commissioner Wifredo “Willie” Gort, who proposed the changes, said there will be a campaign throughout neighborhoods to notify residents of the new measures. The next step will be to send out code-compliance officers to enforce them.
Gort said the regulations seek to improve the quality of life. Residents have complained that permanent sales give a negative appearance to the neighborhoods and cause parking problems. He also said he expected that the elimination of the permit fees would be an incentive to residents.
“I believe most of the garage sales in Miami are illegal because often people don’t know they need a permit,” Gort said. “Traditionally it was something people did as spring cleaning, selling things they didn’t use anymore. But now some places look like a market.”
López and other habitual sellers feel that the rules are very strict and say that, in a way, their sales were a community service.
“What politicians don’t understand is that there are people who don’t have money even to buy in third-class stores like Goodwill, and they come here because they find a pair of pants and a shirt for a dollar,” López said, showing a coat with the word Goodwill and a $4.99 label that he was selling for $1.
“Besides, I don’t believe it’s fair for the city to have the right to regulate what I do inside my property,” he added.
Rosa Páez, one of López’s customers, said she goes to garage sales because she can find cheap things to send to her family in Cuba.
“Many people sell at very cheap prices and we benefit,” Páez said. “You can’t go to the mall because everything is so expensive. Sometimes even thrift stores want to sell at very high prices.”
López said that on Friday afternoon a city compliance-code officer came to his house and warned him that he had to remove the merchandise from the front yard.
“He told me that if he came back, and I still had things hanging on the fence, he was going to fine me,” López said. “Now I don’t know what to do with all this.”
On any given Saturday, in neighborhoods in Little Haiti, Little Havana or Allapattah you can find sales of used clothes, pots, strollers and even electric appliances in gardens and corners. Some have new items, which is also forbidden by city rules.
Several people interviewed by El Nuevo Herald on Saturday showed a street peddler permit that they said gave them the right to sell used articles.
Mariluz Alonzo, who has one of those permits, was selling shoes, clothes and a couple of strollers in front of her rented house in Little Havana.
Alonzo, 60, said that she understands that her street peddler license forces her to move from one place to another with her merchandise and that if law-enforcement officers order her to do so, she would have to walk around the neighborhood.
“But, if the sun is very hot and I have asthma, I can’t go out at this time of day,” said Alonzo, who has sold used items since she had to stop working after an accident that left her disabled.
“If they have a new law, I will have to comply, but I have to somehow manage to get my little pennies honestly.”
Roberto Sánchez, another Little Havana resident who on some weekends sells items in front of his apartment building, said that it was not worth it to get a permit to sell twice a year.
“If they demand that I get a license for that, I will give away everything I have here and stop selling,” said Sánchez, who for two years has been offering used clothes, paintings, toys and ceramic figures. “I don’t make a lot of money. I’ve been here four hours today and I’ve only made $10.”
María Fuentes has a sale every weekend in front of her house near a park in Miami.
Fuentes sells tables, chairs, mirrors and lamps. Some of her customers are antique collectors who later resell the items at stores.
“I understand that the city wants to control certain places where, besides selling things, people gather there to smoke and drink,” said Fuentes, who buys at other places to resell in front of her apartment. “But I keep the place clean and pick up my stuff early.”
Commissioner Gort said he does not wish to discourage residents from having garage sales, but only to control the abuse of that type of activity.
“We have to make clear that in the City of Miami there are rules and codes that must be complied with,” Gort said.