Does a yard sale require a license?

Yard sale on the lawn. Stock photo by Getty Images.
Stock photo by Getty Images

Who hasn’t had a yard sale, or at least visited one? Most of us have gone through our old things and tried to make a little profit by selling them on our front lawn.

The whole event usually takes a few hours, but not in the case of one Alberta man. He took his yard sale to the extreme and had to pay the price — literally.

In a Court of Queen’s Bench decision last week, the judge did not look too kindly on Edmonton resident Matthew Peter’s perpetual yard sale.

The long-running yard sale took place on Peter’s property, which he rented out to several tenants. A municipal bylaw officer visited Peter’s home several times beginning last June, and noted there were a lot of materials in front of his house.

The officer also took photographs. From mid-July the amount of materials kept increasing. The officer noted there was a “yard sale” sign and a “closed” sign among the materials.

Here comes the intriguing part: Peter is the owner of 1-800-DUMP-NOW, a company that picks up old junk from people who no longer want it. 

Both the city and Peter’s neighbours took exception to what was going on, and Peter was ordered to immediately shut down his yard sale and clean up all the junk, garbage bags, litter and debris from his yard, as it was unsightly and creating a nuisance.

Peter refused and filed an appeal. So the city brought the issue to the court to effect an injunction against him.

Peter is fighting back, claiming:

  • the city had no right to enter his property without a warrant, which he claims violated his charter rights;
  • that what he was doing on his front lawn was a yard sale, not a business; and
  • that the city is too broad in defining the concept of “unsightliness” when they ordered him to remove his junk.

The court told Peters, while his constitutional charter rights protected him against unreasonable search and seizure, here the search was not unreasonable. The city had followed the proper process and had established its right to enter his property and therefore did not need a warrant.

Secondly, the court laughed off Peter’s claim that yard sales don’t require a business license. The court told him he’s right — as long as the yard sale doesn’t last longer than three days, and only once per year. After that time limit has been crossed, the city bylaw is clear in that it requires the yard sale to have a business license.

Lastly, the photo evidence suggests Peter was depositing the junk and garbage he picked up from his business on his front yard, which is why the city called the accumulation of stuff a nuisance.

Peter argued that the city bylaw’s wording of “nuisance” and “unsightly” was too broad. However, the city shut him down on this argument, too, as it told him that the bylaw was clear when it talked about “excessive accumulation of materials.”

The court ruled in Edmonton’s favour, granted an injunction and ordered Peter to pay costs.

Maybe Peter can write the court costs off as a business expense.

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