Miami-Dade County

Illegal garage sales vex city of Miami

Veronica Fuchs meticulously planned the March yard sale at her Morningside home.

To boost her sales, she advertised the “super cheap, great stuff” on Craigslist. The money from the great American tradition of hawking gently used blankets, lamps and random bric-a-brac will be used to help fund her grandson’s school trip to China.

She did not know that with this simple act — she hosts garage sales twice yearly — she was breaking the law.

Miami, like many other local municipalities, requires all homeowners to obtain a permit before having a yard or garage sale. The price tag to have the luxury of selling used goods on your property: $28.50.

“I’ve been living in my home since 1967,” Fuchs said. “No one has ever said anything about a permit.”

Like Fuchs, Miami City Commissioner Wifredo Gort said many residents are unaware of the garage sale rule and, he added, the city is not particularly vigilant in enforcing the law. Commissioners will consider an item at their Thursday meeting that would eliminate the cost for garage sale permits to encourage compliance.

Along with the ordinance, Gort said he plans to launch an educational campaign before city code enforcement officers are dispatched into communities on the weekends to enforce the law.

Among the penalties: a homeowner who holds an unpermitted garage sale will not be able to apply for a permit for a year. Violations can result in fines for a homeowner who does not obtain a permit or follow other provisions in the law.

“I believe 90 percent of the garage sales in the city are illegal,” Gort said.

Miami limits garage sales to twice per year, to be held on a weekend or during a holiday. Brand new merchandise is not allowed. And homeowners with unpaid code enforcement fines will not be granted the benefit of a yard sale until they settle their fees.

During the economic downturn, many families turned to selling their wares as a source of quick extra income, but some property owners have taken it to an extreme, turning their front yards into weekly pseudo flea markets, much to the annoyance of neighbors who endure swarms of haggling buyers and traffic, said Gort.

“In my district, now what happens is it’s becoming retail sales. For some people, it’s every week in front of their house. People are calling and complaining,” Gort said.

In Little Haiti, on any given Saturday, it is not unlikely to find several homes selling rows of baby strollers, heavy duty pots and pans and layers of used clothes.

“We see when we drive through Little Haiti we have that problem,” said Commissioner Keon Hardemon, whose district includes the neighborhood. He said some of these homes’s garage sales are really business enterprises, not ordinary yard sales. In the future, Hardemon said, perhaps some of his Little Haiti constituents can sell their wares at an open-air market the city is rehabilitating in the neighborhood.

The front yard, Hardemon said, is not the place for weekly sales.

“It’s a neighborhood enhancement thing,” he said.

Miami’s yard-sale crackdown is not unique. North Miami has a similar law on the books; garage sales are limited to twice per year and the cost for a permit is $10.49. In Miami Beach the price is $20 for a permit, and in Coral Gables, property owners pay $30 to host yard sales.

Gort said he does not want to discourage yard sales in Miami.

“Right now,” he said. “A lot of people are confusing what is considered a garage sale.”