10 Common Things a Homeowner Can Be Fined For

Here's a look at 10 things that can lead to sometimes-hefty fines, depending on local laws and covenants, along with ways to avoid them.

With every corner of America having its own cultural quirks and climate, it’s impossible to create a golden book of homeowner rules to spell out dos and don’ts. Cities and homeowner associations (HOAs) can dictate how long your lawn can be, how you maintain public right-of-ways such as sidewalks and what you can or can’t put in your front or back yard. You’ll also want to take note of what’s going in your garbage can, throwing away these things could be illegal.

Here’s a look at 10 things that can lead to sometimes-hefty fines, depending on local laws and covenants, along with ways to avoid them.

1. Be discreet with clotheslines

Sure, your grandma swore by spring breezes, but not everyone wants to see bras, panties, and boxers blowing in the wind. Tuck a clothesline next to your garage or somewhere screened-off so neighbors aren’t staring at tighty-whities while sipping sangria on their patio.

2. Be aware of what you park outside

Avoid fines for leaving your beloved camper, RV, large boat or classic car fixer-upper looming in your driveway several months of the year. Check local regulations, and consider off-site storage for the off-season or a nicely screened side-lot location. Know that any visible vehicles on your property need a current license.

3. Don’t go native without permission

Urban or suburban neighborhoods may require trim, tidy lawns and limited gardens. Some places even fine homeowners if they have brown or dead spots on their lawn. If you yearn to launch any eco-projects, such as back-to-nature wildflower beds or fields, native prairie areas, or supersized pollinator gardens, you may need to successfully lobby for an exception.

4. Be water savvy with yard projects

Don’t plan on water-guzzling tasks, such as car washing or power-washing siding, without checking on local restrictions, especially in drier states that may restrict these activities—or at least the timing of them. Other water-related projects that may require approval: water gardens, rain barrels and standing water in ponds or birdbaths, which can boost the local mosquito population.

5. Ask before you feed the birds

It may seem like a simple backyard pleasure, but some HOAs don’t allow feeding the birds. The feeding station—especially when seed spills to the yard or deck—can draw other critters (mice, wild turkeys, feral cats or even bears, in some parts of the country) that may cause a nuisance or damage to homes.

6. Check rules before setting up pools

Few summer yard improvements can be a welcome and fun as a pool. Before you invest in one—especially a more economical above-ground model—check local rules. Some neighborhoods may only allow in-ground pools, and many cities require fencing for safety. This definitely makes more sense than the bizarre things that have been banned around the world.

7. Keep the fun in the backyard

Local aesthetics may likewise restrict playsets and play equipment, such as basketball hoops, trampolines, treehouses, swing sets, soccer nets and more. Homeowner associations may relegate equipment to the backyard and have restrictions on size and designs. Bikes, kayaks and recreational equipment, for example, may spark fines if stored in the yard.

8. Check pet regulations

Before falling in love with Fido or Princess Kitty, avoid fines (and potential heartbreak) by learning local pet laws. Some areas restrict the number of pets, the size of dogs, the breed and whether or not you can have an outdoor kennel. More unusual animals, such as backyard rabbits or chickens, pot-bellied pigs or dwarf goats, may be banned completely or require a special permit.

9. Get a green light on home exteriors

Home exteriors can be a major investment, so don’t add to it by racking up fines and requiring a do-over. Homeowner associations and municipalities may dictate allowable paint colors, exterior materials and even the accent color you choose for shutters. Get pre-approval before buying paint or siding materials.

10. Keep house numbers clearly visible

It may seem like a little detail, but your house number is vital and needs to be visible to emergency services, utility crews, and delivery folks. Make sure numbers don’t fall off or get obscured by flowering shrubs, trees or seasonal decorations. Here are some more weird laws you probably break all the time.

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Lisa Meyers McClintick
Lisa Meyers McClintick is an award-winning Minnesota-based freelancer specializing in travel across the Upper Midwest and to national parks across the United States. She has been a longtime contributor to USA Today, Midwest Living magazine, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and also has written for Minnesota Monthly, TravelChannel.com and AAA publications. Her specialties include watching wildlife and birding, harvest travel, hands-on art and history, gardens and wildflowers, quirky small towns and scenic outdoors. She's a member of Society of American Travel Writers and Midwest Travel Journalists Association, which named her the 2019 Travel Writer of the Year. She's also an award-winning photographer and teaches workshops on memoir and creative writing, photography, travel, and creating sketchbooks and journals.