DEAR MR. MYERS: We want to replace the old, 3-foot-tall wood fence that separates our property from our neighbor’s with an 8-foot-tall cement wall that would provide more privacy. But when we applied for a building permit with the city, we were told the new wall cannot be more than 6 feet high. Isn’t this unconstitutional, considering that the wall would be on our private property?
ANSWER: No, the ordinance is perfectly legal.
Many cities, counties and states have ordinances or laws against the construction of overly tall walls or fences — often called “spite fences” — that require homeowners or builders to limit the height to, say, 5 or 6 feet. They’re primarily designed to provide all homeowners with unobstructed views from inside their house, and their legality has been consistently upheld by numerous courts across the nation.
Laws against spite fences make sense. But May 1 is the federally designated National Law Day, which makes this month a fine time to review some of the goofier real estate rules that dictate what homeowners can do and cannot do on their own property, from A-to-Z.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
(Well, actually from A-to-W, because we don’t have a state that starts with X, Y or Z.)
In Arizona, it’s illegal to remove the once-endangered Saguaro cactus from a yard without first getting a permit from the state’s agriculture department, because the cactus blossom of the mighty Saguaro is the official state flower.
Down in the South, where I lived as a kid, Arkansas prosecutors can cite you for mispronouncing the state’s name. A tip: It’s “Are-can-saw,” not “Are-Kansas.”
In Mobile, Alabama, it’s illegal for pigeons to eat pebbles from a composite roof. Homeowners who feed them could become real-life jailbirds.
Up in Alaska, you can shoot a bear if it rambles onto your property but you can’t wake one up to take a photo. In California, you can legally cook frog legs in your kitchen — as long as the frog didn’t die in a frog-jumping contest.
A rarely enforced law in Denver won’t allow you to lend your vacuum-cleaner to a neighbor. Homeowners in Guilford, Connecticut, can display only white lights on their house at Christmas.
Mobile homes are illegal in nearby Fenwick Island, Delaware.
In Honolulu, it’s technically illegal to sing loudly in your yard or a public place after sunset. And in beautiful Idaho, the state won’t let you fish in its idyllic lakes or streams — if you’re sitting on a camel.
Chicagoans can’t eat in a home or restaurant if the place is on fire. If you eat garlic for lunch or dinner, you can’t go to a movie theater until four hours later if you live in Gary, Indiana.
Iowa homeowners who have pet monkeys can’t let their chimps smoke cigarettes. Folks in Kansas cannot cook a snake in their kitchen on Sunday.
In Kentucky, you need a license to walk around nude in your own house.
A godsend for LSU’s legendary athletic programs, Louisiana state law specifically allows homeowners and their offspring “to grow as tall as they like.”
It’s a misdemeanor to leave your holiday lights up after Jan. 14 in Maine. State law in Maryland strictly prohibits homeowners from taking a pet lion to a movie theater.
A criminal can file suit for an injury sustained while robbing a home in Michigan. Parents of young children might appreciate a decades-old law in Minnesota that bars kids under the age of 12 from using a home phone without adult supervision.
Parents in Nebraska can let their children burp at home, but can face a misdemeanor charge if the belch occurs in church. New Hampshire bans using the toilet on Sundays if the user is looking upward.
Property owners can’t paint their house on Sundays in New Jersey. In White Horse, New Mexico, a woman can’t eat onions in her house on Sabbath and then walk the streets unless she’s trailed by her spouse, who must “follow 20 paces behind, carrying a loaded musket over his left shoulder.”
I would personally get in trouble if I lived in Carmel, New York, where it’s illegal to leave a house with pants and a shirt that do not match. Or if I lived in North Carolina, where it’s against the law to sing out-of-tune.
Homeowners can’t sleep in their shoes in North Dakota. Women may not sport patent-leather footwear outside of their house in Ohio.
Owners of aquariums should beware if they live in Oklahoma: State law says that you can’t get your fish drunk. Offenders cannot get off the hook, even if “Goldie” was advised to drink more water.
It’s illegal to wear roller skates in a bathroom in Portland, Oregon, or to sing in a tub in Pennsylvania. You’ll face up to 20 years in prison if you bite off a neighbor’s leg in Rhode Island.
Firefighters in Charleston, South Carolina, can blow up a home if they need to create a firebreak. In South Dakota, farmers and other property owners can set otherwise illegal explosives if they have a sunflower field.
You can’t throw bottles at a tree in your yard in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Sitting on the sidewalk in front of your house in Galveston, Texas, can result in a $500 fine.
Tossing snowballs with your kids can cost you $50 in Provo, Utah.
All residents in Barre, Vermont, must bathe every Saturday night. Owners in rural parts of Virginia can’t shine a spotlight on their chicken coop if it causes the poultry to panic.
You can’t whistle underwater in your tub or pool if you live in West Virginia.
Screens are required on all windows from May through October in Hudson, Wisconsin. And in Wyoming, it’s illegal to take a shower on Wednesday or to take a picture of a rabbit in your back yard in June.
Ain’t law grand?
David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.