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A couch on the porch could bring a $25 fine in Provo

Council revamps ordinance to help clean up the city

PROVO — One of Tina Bryant's favorite things to do on a summer night is sit on the porch and watch the sun set.

She had no idea it was against the law.

There is nothing illegal about watching the sun sink behind the mountains, of course, but the city does have a problem with people who store indoor furniture outside.

Keeping a couch or a love seat on the porch violates Provo's revamped nuisance ordinance, which means police officers could level a $25 fine against Bryant, who has a large couch on her covered porch. She could be fined $25 for every day she refused to move the couch.

"I think that's going too far," Bryant said. "To tell somebody what kind of furniture they can have on their porch . . . that's a little bit extreme."

It's all part of the City Council's effort to clean up the city, says Linda Davis, Provo nuisance abatement officer. Davis said the council has given her office the directive to be more aggressive in resolving nuisance complaints.

Davis says outdoor furniture often attracts mice and birds. There is nothing wrong with keeping patio or other outdoor furniture on the porch, however.

"Who's to say my couch is not outdoor furniture?" Bryant said. "If I put a sheet of plastic over it, would it be considered outdoor furniture?"

Davis said the answer to that question would be up to the zoning enforcement officer on the case, who would have to determine "what a normal person" in the neighborhood would think.

But how would "a normal person" define junk? As the adage goes: "One man's junk is another man's treasure."

It's an adage Davis is familiar with — she hears it all the time from people who want to park a car on the front lawn or refuse to pull weeds in the back yard.

She admits it is a difficult issue to answer.

Often, nuisance violators refuse to comply with the ordinance. In a recent meeting, zoning enforcement officer Rita Trimble showed a video of one such violator whose house and back yard were full of trash.

The city had to go to court asking for permission to go on the property and clean up the mess, but Trimble said it was difficult to convince the judge the city had that right. The judge ruled in the city's favor and since December the homeowners have moved 15 1/2 tons of trash from the property.

"A lot of the people that have a problem don't realize it's a problem," Davis said. "They don't see it like the rest of us do."

Davis' office gets about 25 complaints a month, from residents living in both low- and high-income areas of the city. In most cases Davis' office won't do much about nuisance violators unless neighbors complain.

In that case, Bryant's couch isn't going anywhere — many of her neighbors also store furniture on the porch.

That means on summer nights, after her child is asleep in bed, she will sit on the porch and watch the sun set.

"I think it's good for people to come out of their homes and talk to their neighbors," Bryant said. "That's the way it used to be; that's the way it should be."