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Officials say many yard sales skirt law

July 07, 1997

By VANDANA SINHA

Staff Writer

If you have an annual yard sale for three weekends in a row, you are violating a little-known Maryland law that could cost you up to $1,000 a day in fines.

Even if you haul everything back in during the week, the law says you can't have a yard sale more than once a year for more than 14 days in a row.

That's good news to people like Katherine McCauley who says her Dual Highway neighborhood is jammed with people going to continuous yard sales every week.

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"This road is so full of traffic that people visiting these yard sales park in front of our mailboxes and our driveways," she said.

But another Dual Highway resident, Charles Dimon, says the government ought to mind its own business, especially since the law isn't uniformly enforced.

"I know of people who've had at least two yard sales this year, and they certainly weren't for 14 consecutive days. They weren't closed down. This ought to be cleared up," he said.

The law treats lengthy yard sales as businesses, forcing anyone who wants to have a continuous sale to get a traders license - but there's a catch.

Zoning laws say you can't have a business in a residential zone, according to Paul Prodonovich, who is the director of the county's Department of Permits and Inspections.

That means you have to request a public hearing before the zoning appeals board to consider your yard sale a special exception - a 45-day process Prodonovich said no one has ever tried.

If you want to go that route, you have to bring with you:

  • A scale drawing of your land
  • Names and addresses of neighbors
  • An explanation for the request
  • Notarized approval by property owners if you rent the house
  • $175 for a filing fee.


"People don't know about the law," he said. "People are getting upset, but ... I'm just doing the appropriate thing to do."

Enforcement is limited to "as much as we can do when we find out about it," mainly through neighbors' complaints, said Henry Presser, chief license inspector for the state License Bureau.

When he gets a complaint, Presser sends out an inspector who gives the offender a warning. If the yard sale persists after 15 days without a trader's license, the individual will be summoned to court for a trial, Presser said.

People violating the law could be fined up to $1,000 a day for each day of violation beyond the 14 authorized days each year, Prodonovich said.

McCauley said she and several neighbors have lobbied the zoning board and plan to appeal to their state delegate to reduce yard sales.

"We're running into a lot of problems on the Dual Highway. We need to revisit yard sale type of laws," said Washington County Commissioner Ronald Bowers, who receives a majority of complaints from community members.

While Presser recalls giving only about two or three official warnings for extended yard sales in the past five years, Bowers said he has reviewed between eight or 12 incidents so far this summer.

Bowers said most people stop their activities when warned and no one has been put on trial as a result of a yard sale violation.

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