Though Ann Arbor’s porch couch ban was enacted more than a month ago, city officials are only starting to enforce it today.
The ban — which prohibits upholstered furniture on porches citywide — carries a maximum $1,000 fine for violators. Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed the ban in the wake of a fatal April 3 house fire on South State Street that authorities believe turned deadly because a couch on the porch caught fire. The fire killed Eastern Michigan University student Renden LeMasters.
Though the citywide ban officially went into effect Oct. 2, city officials said in a Nov. 3 press release that they wanted to give residents an “amnesty period” to get rid of upholstered porch furniture before actual enforcement began.
But beginning today, that amnesty period is over.
Two city officials involved in promoting the ban emphasized in interviews yesterday that enforcement of the ban will focus more on compliance than punishment.
According to Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3), the Ann Arbor City Council member who sponsored the ordinance, violators will have ample opportunity to remove upholstered porch furniture before a fine is issued.
Taylor said those found in violation of the ban will receive an initial notice detailing the nature of the violation. These notices will be handed out either by city housing inspectors or community standards officers — the two groups charged with enforcing the ban.
After receiving the initial notice, violators will have one to three days to remove the furniture, Taylor said.
Violators who fail to remove the furniture in that period will be issued a ticket that states a day to appear in court, Taylor said.
But Taylor said the ticket will not result in an automatic fine, since violators will have between two to four weeks before their court appearance to remove the furniture.
If violators ever go to court, the first question they will be asked is if the upholstered item remains on their porch, Taylor said.
If the answer is no, Taylor said the magistrate is likely to be forgiving.
But if the answer is yes, a fine will probably be administered, Taylor said.
“If the couch is still there … I suspect there will be some kind of fine,” Taylor said, adding that he’d be “shocked” if a fine approaching the maximum $1,000 is ever issued.
As Taylor emphasized in the interview, the point of the ban is not to hand out fines.
“The goal of the ordinance has nothing to do with fines,” Taylor said. “It has everything to do with removing porch couches.”
Taylor added that he will be “delighted” if a fine is never issued.
“Our goal is to have there be no (upholstered) porch couches,” Taylor said.
In a separate interview yesterday, Ann Arbor Fire Marshal Kathleen Chamberlain agreed with Taylor, saying the Ann Arbor Fire Department is much more concerned about regulating safety issues associated with the ban than issuing fines.
“Nobody’s intent is to issue citations, but to get cooperative compliance,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain added that the fire department’s role in enforcing the ban will be confined mainly to moving upholstered porch furniture that poses an “immediate endangerment to life and safety,” like a couch blocking a doorway.
Instead of directly issuing bans, the AAFD will forward all violations to city housing inspectors for review.
“If there’s a real problem we’re going to turn (it) over to housing,” Chamberlain said.
Several phone calls yesterday to Sumedh Bahl, Ann Arbor Community Services Area Administrator and the main city official in charge of ban enforcement, were not returned as of last night.