If New Rochelle Requires Permits for Tag Sales Why Doesn't it Require Display of Permits at Tag Sales

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I was out on the North Fork a few weeks ago and attended a few tag sales. At each house there was a bright yellow-green sign which indicated the name of the permit holder, the location, date and permit number.

I cannot recall ever seeing such a sign displayed in New Rochelle even though the New Rochelle Municipal Code Chapter 160 requires that "anyone holding a garage sale, yard sale, etc. must obtain an Application for a Garage/Yard Sale from the City Clerk's Office".

These sales are limited to personal property which is owned, utilized and maintained by a person and/or his or her household and acquired in the normal course of living in or maintaining a residence. It does not include merchandise purchased for resale or obtained on consignment.

An individual homeowner is allowed two (2) sales per year. A homeowners’ association or Civic Group is allowed to conduct no more that four (4) sales per year. All garage/yard sales are limited to three (3) consecutive days from the hours of 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Only one rain date sequence is allowed. It can be requested at the City Clerk's office no later than 3 PM on the Thursday prior to the sale date.

According to the City web site, "the City Code requires that an application for a garage/yard sale must be submitted seven days in advance of the proposed sale date. The application must include evidence of public liability insurance coverage, naming the owner of the property upon which the sale is to take place as the insured. The insured property owner must also present photo ID. Minimum coverage required is $250,000. Apartment dwellers much have the permission of the building owner or managing agent and provide proof of public liability insurance."

Permits cost $30 for an individual homeowner and $50 for a homeowner associations or civic group.

The City web site warns that "violations are subject to very stiff penalties".

Every article of personal property displayed, offered for sale, or sold in violation shall constitute a separate offense. In addition each and every day without a permit will also be considered a separate offense. Upon conviction the fine is no more that $250.00 for each and every violation. You must produce your permit when requested by a city official or a member of the general public.

There are a few problems with this law.

First, the motivation behind the law, as discussed by Council at the time it was passed a few years ago, was a specific woman who was operating a commercial business out of her home on Kensington Oval, and holding her "tag sales" every week -- in other words she was basically running a full-scale business under the guise of holding a tag sale. This law did absolutely nothing to stop her from running her "tag sales", she simply held the two she was allowed on her property and then held more "tag sales" on the property of friends, family and neighbors.

Second, the law places the onus primarily on the general public to be the enforcement mechanism by directly and personally confronting the person operating the tag sale and demanding that the person provide documentation that the tag sale is legal.

Third, the scope of the law treats a family holding one traditional tag sale once a year the same as a handful of people illegally operating commercial businesses out of their homes.

Fourth, the entire approach is all stick and no carrot -- permit fees, application forms, 7 days advance notices, stiff penalties and so on.

As a practical matter, the law is not enforced except in the most extreme cases. An entirely unscientific survey over the past few weeks show that most people do not get the permit and none of them actually display the permit.

I have asked the City for the list of permits issued in 2014 and the NRPD for a list of City Code violations for holding tag sales without a permit and will publish that information in a follow up article.

The text of the current law should be changed to contain language that a tag sale permit must be posted conspicuously at the front of the premises so that it is visible from the sidewalk or street or otherwise without having to enter the property or premises.

An additional violation should be added - failure to display the tag sale permit conspicuously as required. The fine should be enough to make the $30 fee seem cheap by comparison.

The effect would be to allow the general public or a city official to know instantly whether the tag sale is compliant -- no permit displayed means the tag sale is out of compliance even if they have a permit.

So those are my ideas on more stick.

Here's the carrot -- and its a good one.

As the law requires one week advance notice and almost all tag sales are held on Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday, that means the City Clerk knows on Monday all the permitted tag sales for the coming weekend.

That list of permitted tag sales should be published by the City on its web site and otherwise promoted via all available media channels as well as distribution to media outlets and websites that list tag sales. This list should be organized so it is easily printed and include a Google Map displaying all the locations.

For $30, a homeowner holding a tag sale gets tremendous promotion and advertising for their tag sales.

For those who enjoy shopping at tag sales, they can get a comprehensive list of all the tag sales in New Rochelle.

To make this even more attractive, the City should integrate a permit application form into its web site, include a payment mechanism to pay the permit fee and a way to upload proof of liability insurance, and leave room for perhaps 100-200 characters were a homeowner holding a tag sale can provide a description of the items to be sold at the tag sale.

This approach would be entirely consistent with some of the ideas espoused by Development Commissioner Luiz Aragon to promote business in New Rochelle (folks who come to shop tag sales may linger to have lunch or shop at area stores, folks who make money on tag sales may spend it in New Rochelle).

With a clear benefit to the homeowner holding a tag sale, one where the benefits far outweigh the costs, compliance with this law would quickly move towards 100%.

Non-compliance would not only be self-defeating for a person trying to attract people to their tag sale but obvious to anyone walking or driving past the tag sale where a quick, anonymous phone call to police would result in an enforcement action.

The current fines are too punitive and impractical and should be first reduced and then scaled up. A $100 fine for failing to display a permit makes sense as does a $250 fine for failing to have a permit. What does not make sense is up to a $250 fine for every item on sale at a tag sale. For a tag sale within 200 items for sale that amounts to a possible fine up to $50,000. Is this City really prepared to seek that or enforce that? Not likely so why have a law on the books you will not actually enforce?

With a few changes to the text of the current law and a better application of media and technology to promote those who comply with the law the City will get more compliance, more rational enforcement, and more revenue. Homeowners looking to have tag sales will get maximum promotion from a centralized location and make more money as a result of paying a relatively small permit fee. Residents looking to shop tag sales will have a readily available source to get a completely comprehensive list.

This would be a win-win-win solution.

If you think I missed something let me know in the comments section.

UPDATE: Captain Kealy of NRPD responded to my FOIL request for violations of this law.

There was one city code summons issued in 2014, to date (01/01/14 - 08/25/14)

Issued on 04/26/14 at 1105 hours
Issued to Steven Nole
Issued at 75 Rhodes St.
Issued for CC Ch 160 - 2 no permit

This confirms the point above: it is never good to have a law on the books that is both ignored by residents, relies largely on the general public for enforcement, is a waste of time for an undermanned police department with more critical issues to address and, for all practical purposes, is not enforced.

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