Friday

26

April 2024

Question: Is it Legal to Build a Greenhouse in my Backyard?

Written by , Posted in Land Use and Zoning Law, Property Law

Answer: Yes it’s Legal in most cases. The legality of building or adding a greenhouse one on your property is obviously subject to various factors, including zoning laws, permits, property setbacks, size restrictions, and homeowners association regulations.

If you’re out in the sticks where no one can even see you have a new greenhouse constructed, things are easy, but if you’re in a more developed area you may need to do the following which we will discuss: obtaining necessary permits for the greenhouse and adhering to building codes and safety standards. Also looking at the potential implications of using a greenhouse as an accessory dwelling unit (ADU).

Zoning Laws and Permits

  • Zoning laws are local regulations that dictate how land can be used and what structures can be built on a property. These laws vary by city, county, and state, so it’s essential to research the specific requirements in your area.
  • To find local zoning laws and building permit requirements, start by visiting your city or county’s building department website or office. They can provide you with the necessary information and forms to begin the permit application process.
  • In most cases in cities and suburbs, you’ll need to obtain a building permit before constructing a greenhouse. This process ensures that your structure adheres to local safety standards and doesn’t violate any zoning restrictions.
    • Example: In Portland, Oregon, a building permit is required for any greenhouse larger than 200 square feet or taller than 10 feet.
  • Failing to obtain the necessary permits can result in fines, legal action, and even the requirement to remove your greenhouse entirely.

While it may seem like a hassle to go through the permit process, as lawyers, we’d assure you that this is an important step in protecting both your investment. Skipping this step can lead to costly consequences down the road. We’ve rarely seen a city make someone take down a structure they spent a lot of money on, but you never know and some municipalities can be very draconian and even punitive..

Building or Buying a Kit?

Note: if you’re thinking of buying or constructing your own greenhouse, there are various options available to homeowners. A popular choice is DIY greenhouse kits, like this All-Metal Hoop House Kit below. These kits provide a convenient and cost-effective solution for those who want to construct their own greenhouse while ensuring compliance with building codes and safety standards. Click here for a link to their website.

The Gothic-shaped all-metal hoop house, for example, is made from US-manufactured galvanized steel and aluminum, and is NRCS compliant. It also includes all necessary components and instructions, eliminating the guesswork and streamlining the construction process.

By opting for a reputable DIY kit, homeowners can save time and effort in researching and sourcing materials, while still adhering to the legal requirements for backyard structures. However, it’s essential to remember that even with a kit, you’ll still need to obtain the necessary permits and approvals from your local building department and HOA before beginning construction.

Property Setbacks and Size Restrictions

  • Setbacks are the minimum distances that a structure must be from property lines and neighboring buildings. These requirements help maintain privacy, ensure proper drainage, and prevent overcrowding.
    • Example: In many residential zones, structures must be at least 5 feet from the side and rear property lines.
  • Size restrictions may also apply to backyard greenhouses. These limitations can be based on the total square footage of the structure or its height.
    • Example: In some areas, backyard structures cannot exceed 50% of the total yard area or be taller than the primary residence.
  • To determine the setback and size restrictions for your property, consult your local zoning ordinances or speak with a representative from your building department. We’ve seen city websites that make this easy, some not so easy.

Homeowners Association (HOA) Regulations

  • If you live in a community governed by an HOA, you’ll need to review their bylaws and covenants before building a greenhouse. Some HOAs have strict rules regarding the appearance, size, and location of backyard structures. Keep in mind we have friends in the hillcountry of Texas with 5-10 acre ranches out in the boonies who still have HOAs! They will let you farm pigs and shoot guns all day long, but they have very stright regulations on sight-lines from the street and what can or cannot be seen.
    • Example: An HOA might prohibit the use of certain materials or require that greenhouses be screened from view.
  • To avoid potential conflicts, submit your greenhouse plans to your HOA for approval before beginning construction. Be prepared to make adjustments based on their feedback.
  • If you’re unsure about your HOA’s regulations, contact your HOA board or property management company for clarification!!

Building Codes and Safety Standards

  • Building codes are designed to ensure that structures are safe, stable, and energy-efficient. When constructing your greenhouse, you’ll need to adhere to these codes, which may specify requirements for materials, structural integrity, and ventilation. It’s usually not the end of the world if a greenhouse collapses, however in today’s litigious environment, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
    • Example: Greenhouses may need to withstand a certain amount of wind load or snow load, depending on the local climate.
  • The International Building Code (IBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC) are the primary building codes adopted by most states and municipalities in the United States. However, some areas may have additional local amendments or requirements.
  • To ensure compliance with building codes and safety standards, work closely with your local building department and consider hiring a professional contractor familiar with greenhouse construction.

Greenhouse to Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Conversion Considerations

An ADU is a secondary living space on a property, such as a guest house or apartment. Some homeowners may consider converting their vintage greenhouse into an ADU. Why? A well-built and rustic greenhouse with glass walls that is no longer being used for its original purpose can actually be lived in. Some people (mostly in colder climates) may be drawn to the idea of living in a converted greenhouse for its unique architectural features, abundant natural light, and connection to nature. It can also be an Air BNB idea for extra rental income.

However, using a greenhouse as an ADU comes with additional legal implications. Zoning laws may restrict the construction of ADUs or require specific permits and inspections.

Example: In California, ADUs must meet minimum size requirements and cannot be sold separately from the primary residence.

Converting a greenhouse into an ADU can also affect your property taxes and insurance coverage, so it’s essential to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks carefully.

If you’re considering using your greenhouse as an ADU, consult with your local planning department to understand the specific requirements and restrictions in your area.

At the end of the Day

Adding a backyard greenhouse can be a rewarding and enjoyable project, but it’s essential to navigate the legal landscape carefully. By researching local zoning laws, obtaining necessary permits, adhering to building codes, and respecting HOA regulations, you can ensure that your greenhouse is a legal and valuable addition to your property.

FAQs

  1. Do I always need a permit to build a backyard greenhouse?
    • In most cases, yes. However, some areas may have exemptions for small, detached structures. Always check with your local building department for specific requirements.
  2. What happens if I build a greenhouse without obtaining the necessary permits?
    • Building without permits can result in fines, legal action, and the requirement to remove the structure or bring it up to code. It’s always best to obtain permits before starting construction.
  3. Can I use my backyard greenhouse as a living space or rental unit?
    • Using a greenhouse as an ADU is subject to zoning laws and may require additional permits and inspections. Consult with your local planning department to understand the specific requirements and restrictions in your area.
  4. How can I find out if my HOA allows the construction of greenhouses?
    • Review your HOA’s bylaws and covenants, which should outline any restrictions on backyard structures. If the information is unclear, contact your HOA board or property management company for clarification.
  5. Are there any tax implications associated with adding a backyard greenhouse?
    • Adding a greenhouse may increase your property value and, consequently, your property taxes. If you use your greenhouse for business purposes, such as selling plants, you may also need to report the income on your tax returns. Consult with a tax professional for guidance specific to your situation. In some states an agricultural exception might significantly reduce your tax burden, if you’re growing approved agricultural plants.

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Wednesday

24

April 2024

Question: Is It Legal To Own A Hedgehog In New York?

Written by , Posted in Statutory Law

Answer: Maybe. It depends where in New York you live if you can have one of these spiky friends. While hedgehogs are legal to own in the State of New York, they are not legal to own if you live within New York City (inclusive of the five burroughs). Other states have banned ownership of hedgehogs as some wildlife agencies are concerned that a larger hedgehog population could pose a risk to local wildlife.

In New York State, the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) Article 11, Title 1, Section 11-0103 prohibits the possession, sale, barter, transfer, exchange, or import of wild animals as pets without a license. Hedgehogs are considered wild animals under this law.

However, the law allows for individual cities, towns, and villages to pass their own local laws regarding the ownership of exotic pets. As a result, the legality of hedgehog ownership varies across the state.

For example:

  1. In New York City, hedgehogs are illegal to keep as pets under the New York City Health Code Section 161.01, which prohibits the possession of wild animals.
  2. In Buffalo, hedgehogs are allowed as pets, as the city does not have specific laws prohibiting their ownership.

Therefore, to determine the legality of owning a hedgehog in a specific location within New York, one would need to check the local laws and ordinances of that particular city, town, or village.

The only resource tracking hedgehog ownership laws can be seen here: https://www.hedgehogcentral.com/illegal.shtml

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Tuesday

23

April 2024

Question: Is It Legal to Put a Sauna in a House or Apartment as a Renter/Tenant?

Written by , Posted in Contract Law, Insurance Law, Property Law, Real Estate Law

Answer: Yes, in some cases. If you can install the sauna without needing to modify the landlord’s dwelling (such as by running new 220v wiring or similar) or making any other permanent addition or modification to the house or apartment, than you should be good to go. If not, as lawyers, we’d recommend you to definitely need to ask for permission as the first step before doing anything else.

But let’s explore adding a sauna as a renter in more detail, including lease agreement considerations (landlord-tenant law), landlord consent (property law), building codes and permits (building and construction law), liability and insurance (insurance law and tort law), and removal and restoration (contract law).

Lease Agreement Considerations (Landlord-Tenant Law)

Before you start planning your sauna installation, it’s crucial to review your lease agreement thoroughly. Look for any terms, conditions, or restrictions that may prohibit or limit your ability to modify the rental property. Pay close attention to clauses that address alterations, improvements, or installations. Landlord-tenant laws vary by state and local jurisdiction, so it’s essential to understand your rights and obligations as a tenant.

For example, your lease may include a clause stating that any alterations or modifications to the property require the landlord’s prior written consent. If such a clause exists, you’ll need to discuss your sauna installation plans with your landlord before proceeding. “It’s essential for renters to carefully examine their lease agreements and understand their rights and obligations regarding property modifications,” our lawyers say. “Failure to comply with the lease terms can lead to legal consequences and potential eviction.”

Landlord Consent (Property Law)

Obtaining your landlord’s written permission is a critical step in the process of adding a sauna to your rental property. Schedule a meeting with your landlord to discuss your sauna installation plans in detail. Be prepared to address any concerns they may have, such as potential damage to the property, noise levels, or increased utility costs. Property law governs the ownership, use, and transfer of real estate, including rental properties, so it’s essential to understand your landlord’s rights and responsibilities. Your landlord may grant conditional approval for the sauna installation, subject to certain requirements or restrictions.

For instance, they may stipulate that the sauna must be installed by a licensed professional or that you must obtain the necessary permits and approvals from local authorities. “Landlords have the right to protect their property and ensure that any modifications are done safely and legally,” explains Dr. Thompson. “Renters should approach the conversation with their landlord openly and transparently, and be willing to accommodate reasonable requests.”

Building Codes and Permits (Building and Construction Law)

Before installing a sauna in your rental property, you must research and comply with local building codes and regulations. These codes ensure that the sauna is installed safely and meets the required standards for electrical wiring, ventilation, and fire safety. Building and construction law governs these requirements and ensures that structures, including saunas, are built and installed safely and in compliance with local requirements.

Contact your local building department to inquire about the specific requirements for sauna installations in your area. You may need to obtain permits, such as an electrical permit, to proceed with the installation legally. “Failing to obtain the necessary permits can result in fines, legal penalties, and potential removal of the sauna at the renter’s expense,” warns Dr. Thompson. “It’s crucial to navigate the permit process diligently to avoid any legal complications.”

Liability and Insurance (Insurance Law and Tort Law)

Installing a sauna in your rental property comes with potential liability risks. If a guest or visitor is injured while using the sauna, you could be held liable for any damages or medical expenses incurred. Tort law governs the legal remedies available to individuals who have suffered harm due to the actions or omissions of others, such as negligence or premises liability. Review your renter’s insurance policy to determine if it provides coverage for such situations.

If not, consider obtaining additional liability insurance to protect yourself from potential legal claims. Insurance law addresses the coverage provided by renter’s insurance policies and any additional liability protection that may be necessary. “Renters should also consider having guests sign a liability waiver before using the sauna,” suggests Dr. Thompson. “While not foolproof, a waiver can provide some level of protection and demonstrate that the renter took reasonable precautions.”

Removal and Restoration (Contract Law)

When your lease comes to an end, you may be required to remove the sauna and restore the rental property to its original condition. Review your lease agreement carefully to understand your obligations regarding removal and restoration. The lease agreement is a legally binding contract, and contract law principles apply to the interpretation and enforcement of lease terms, including clauses related to property modifications and alterations.

If the lease includes clauses addressing these issues, you must comply with the specified requirements. Failure to do so could result in the loss of your security deposit or additional legal consequences. “Renters should budget for the cost of sauna removal and property restoration,” advises Dr. Thompson. “It’s important to have a plan in place to ensure a smooth transition when vacating the rental property.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

  1. Can a landlord refuse to allow a sauna installation? Yes, a landlord has the right to refuse a sauna installation if they believe it poses a risk to the property or violates the terms of the lease agreement.
  2. Is it necessary to obtain a building permit for a portable sauna? We’re not contractors so we’d say no, but portable saunas may still require permits depending on local building codes and regulations. It’s best to consult with your local building department for specific guidance.
  3. Who is liable if a guest is injured while using the renter’s sauna? The renter may be held liable for any injuries sustained by guests while using the sauna. Renter’s liability insurance and waivers can help mitigate potential legal risks.
  4. What happens if the renter fails to remove the sauna at the end of the lease? If the renter fails to remove the sauna as required by the lease agreement, the landlord may have the right to remove it and charge the associated costs to the renter. Legal action may also be pursued.
  5. Are there any tax implications for adding a sauna to a rental property? Installing a sauna may be considered a capital improvement, which could have tax implications for both the renter and the landlord. Consulting with a tax professional is recommended to understand the specific tax consequences.

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Sunday

31

March 2024

Question: Growing Your Own Food, Is it Legal?

Written by , Posted in Land Use and Zoning Law

Answer: Yes, it is obviously legal to grow your own food in most countries around the world, including the United States. Basically, you need to be doing so on your own property or on property where you have permission to garden. However, there may be specific local ordinances, HOA rules, or rental agreement terms that restrict or regulate the types, quantities, or locations of plants that can be grown. These regulations might address concerns such as maintaining sightlines for drivers, controlling pests, or preventing agricultural activities in residential areas.

We recommend you check with local authorities, your HOA (if you have one) or any landlords to ensure compliance with any applicable rules or regulations.

oregon garden growing food in backyard 2

Laws Concerning Growing Your Own Food

When it comes to growing your own food, there are federal, state, and local laws and regulations to consider. At the federal level, the Right to Farm Act protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits, while the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) sets standards for the safe growing, harvesting, and handling of produce. However, these laws primarily apply to commercial farming operations, not home gardens mind you.

State laws and regulations vary widely, with some states having more permissive laws than others. For example, California’s Neighborhood Food Act allows residents to grow food on their own property, regardless of local zoning ordinances. Other states, like Michigan, have passed laws protecting the right to farm and the right to keep backyard chickens.

We know it can be an un-optimal and frustrating situation, but local ordinances and zoning laws can have the most significant impact on your ability to grow food at home. These regulations may restrict the types of plants you can grow, the size and location of your garden, and even your ability to raise chickens or other livestock. It’s essential to research and understand the specific laws and regulations in your area before starting your home garden.

Common Legal Q&As

  1. Is it legal to grow vegetables in my backyard? In most cases, yep. However, we recommend you  check your local zoning laws and homeowners’ association rules to ensure there are no restrictions on home gardening.
  2. Can I sell the excess produce from my home garden? Usually.. Some areas may require permits or licenses for selling homegrown produce, while others may have more relaxed rules.
  3. Do I need a permit to start a home garden? Nope. However, if you plan on making significant changes to your property, such as building raised beds or installing irrigation systems though, you may need to obtain permits from your local government.
  4. Are there any restrictions on the types of plants I can grow? Of course. Some local laws may restrict the cultivation of certain plants, such as cannabis or invasive species. Additionally, if you live in a homeowners’ association, there may be rules about the types of plants you can grow in your yard.
  5. Can I raise chickens or other livestock for personal consumption? The legality of keeping chickens or other livestock varies widely by location. Some cities and towns allow backyard chickens, while others prohibit them. Be sure to check your local laws and regulations.
  6. Are there any water usage restrictions for home gardening? During times of drought, some areas like the hill country of Texas and Southern California may implement water usage restrictions that could impact your ability to water your garden. It’s important to stay informed about local water conservation measures and adjust your gardening practices accordingly.
  7. Can I use pesticides or fertilizers in my home garden? Yes, unless it’s a commercial-only product not legally sold to homeowners in which case there may be some gray-area legally.
  8. Are there any legal requirements for composting? Composting laws vary by location. Some cities and towns have specific guidelines for composting, such as the types of materials you can include and the location of your compost bin. Check with your local government for specific requirements.
  9. Can I share my homegrown produce with neighbors or friends? In most cases, yes. However, if you plan on regularly distributing large quantities of homegrown produce, you may need to look into local food safety regulations and permits.
  10. What are the legal implications of starting a community garden? Community gardens are subject to local laws and regulations, which may include zoning restrictions, liability concerns, and rules about the distribution of produce. If you’re interested in starting a community garden, we recommend you work with your local government and experienced community garden organizers to ensure compliance with all applicable laws.

Re-cap

Growing your own food can be a rewarding and enriching experience, but it’s important to understand the legal fine print involved. By familiarizing yourself with the federal, state, and local laws and regulations surrounding home gardening, you can ensure that your garden is compliant and avoid potential legal issues (usually due to unforeseen circumstances).

Remember to stay informed about local ordinances, zoning laws, and water usage restrictions, and don’t hesitate to reach out to local resources, such as cooperative extension offices and gardening clubs, for guidance and support. Very importantly, staying informed and compliant with all applicable laws is essential for anyone considering growing marijuana/weed or any other controlled substance.

Some sources to help you grow food include forums such as:

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Thursday

14

March 2024

Question: Is it illegal to burn money?

Written by , Posted in Statutory Law

Answer: Yes. There is actually a law against burning money.  According to Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code, it is illegal to “mutilate, cut, deface, disfigure, or perforate, or unite or cement together, or do any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued.”

While the law does not explicitly mention “burning,” this act clearly fits into the category of mutilation or defacement intended to render the currency unfit for reissue. Thus, burning money in the U.S. could be deemed illegal under this statute, especially if done with the intent to deface or destroy the currency.

It’s unlikely you’ll face consequences if you’re burning a small amount of money in private, but know that technically it’s illegal. Also, there’s a difference between burning a few small bills as a symbolic gesture versus systematically destroying large sums of money. Burning a couple dollars might go unnoticed, but setting hundreds of thousands of Dollars ablaze is much more likely to attract legal scrutiny.
burning money benjamins political protest

Why Is it Illegal?

Burning or otherwise mutilating money is illegal because the government wants to preserve the integrity and stability of the nation’s currency system. There are several key reasons behind why they made laws against burning currency:

  1. Preservation of National Wealth: Currency represents a country’s economic stability and wealth. When money is destroyed, especially in large quantities, it can potentially lead to a loss in the overall monetary supply, affecting the nation’s economy. Although the physical act of burning a small amount of currency might not significantly impact an economy, the legality sets a precedent to prevent more substantial losses. In the past, when only physical money existed, this was a big deal and laws were needed to protect the money supply against nefarious actions by enemy states or in times of revelation or civil war.
  2. Cost of Replacement: Money that is damaged or destroyed needs to be replaced, which incurs a cost. Printing new currency involves significant resources, including materials, labor, and security measures. Laws against mutilating currency help minimize these unnecessary expenses.
  3. Trust in the Currency System: Confidence in the currency system is crucial for its stability. Laws against destroying currency reinforce the idea that the national currency is a protected and valued symbol of the economy. Such legal protections help maintain public and international confidence in the currency’s value and stability.
  4. Prevention of Fraud: We think a BIIIG reason for these laws is to prevent fraud! By making it a crime to mutilate currency, the government can prosecute attempts to alter banknotes to increase their value or to reuse materials from higher denomination notes for counterfeiting purposes.
  5. Cultural and Symbolic Respect: Currency often carries significant cultural and historical symbols. Laws against destroying currency also serve to respect and preserve these symbols, which might represent important national figures, historical events, or national heritage.

As satisfying as it might feel to set your cash aflame, in the U.S. and many other countries, burning money is generally illegal when done with currency that is still in circulation. Engaging in such behavior can result in fines and even imprisonment, especially if done on a large scale or with fraudulent intent.

What About Burning Money for Artistic or Political Statements?

There might be certain artistic or expressive contexts, like a film production or political protest, where burning a small amount of money could potentially be permitted as free speech. It’s advisable to check the laws and regulations in your local area or consult with a legal professional to understand the specifics regarding money burning.

While freedom of expression is protected under the First Amendment in the United States, the law against currency mutilation remains applicable. That said, the government’s interest in prosecuting such cases might weigh the public interest in freedom of expression against the need to maintain the integrity of the currency. In other countries, laws and enforcement will vary, and such acts could be more likely to result in legal consequences, particularly if they’re viewed as damaging to the national economy or disrespectful to national symbols. In other words, in 2024 we’d recommend not setting Rubles on fire in Moscow as an act of protest against Putin’s government.

In Summary

In conclusion, while the act of burning money may be seen by some as a form of expression or protest, it is important to be aware of the legal boundaries within your jurisdiction. Given the potential for fines and imprisonment, those considering such actions should thoroughly understand their local laws and weigh the consequences. We’d recommend consulting with a legal professional can provide clarity and guidance on this complex issue.

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