City could ban porch couches


As temperatures rise, students and other Minneapolis residents will spend more time lounging outdoors — but those with indoor couches or chairs on their porch may be out of luck.

A proposed amendment to a Minneapolis nuisance ordinance is seeking to rid the city of all upholstered furniture manufactured for indoor use placed on lawns or exposed porches.

The amendment, which was brought before the city’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee in early March, seeks to specify an ordinance to state that indoor furniture placed outdoors would constitute a nuisance condition.

Diane Hofstede, Ward 3 councilmember who proposed the amendment, said this is not just an issue near the University of Minnesota, where many students have furniture outside their homes, but throughout Minneapolis neighborhoods. Residents in northeast Minneapolis have also expressed similar concerns, she said.

Hofstede said the furniture can cause health risks such as asthma and is generally unsanitary.

“It’s a perfect nesting spot for things we don’t want in the city, like mice and rats,” she said.

Katie Fournier, a member of the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said the furniture is also a fire hazard, and has been suspected as the cause of a 2003 house fire in the area that killed three University students.

“They think the cause was probably people smoking outside on a couch,” she said. “I think it’s an easy thing for the council to do that could really clean up some health and safety problems for the city.”

However, the City Council questioned if the furniture was actually a serious fire threat.

Bryan Tyner, fire marshal of the Minneapolis Fire Department, was asked to look into incidents of fires caused by indoor furniture placed outdoors.

Tyner said in his research, he found several incidents where an indoor couch caused a fire after it ignited on a porch.

“The most common reason seems to be careless smoking, which is the most common reason for most of our fires,” he said.

Other incidents were related to arson, Tyner said, where furniture was intentionally lit causing a house fire.

In 2007, out of 837 residential fires in Minneapolis, there were 11 fires in which an upholstered piece of furniture was the first item ignited, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

“It’s a significant problem but the ordinance is actually more of a nuisance issue than a fire code issue,” Tyner said.

There is nothing in the Minneapolis fire code that relates to indoor furniture placed outdoors, he said.

Kane McDermott, a senior studying operations management and sociology , said he has a couch on the porch of his home in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.

McDermott said the sofa has not attracted rodents or grown any sort of mold.

“It’s dirty because its outside, but everything outside gets dirty,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything on it that looks dangerous.”

McDermott said he would be upset if the ordinance were changed.

“Sitting on my porch is enjoyable,” he said, “and it’s my house, so I figure we should be able to control what we put on our porch.”

Tyner said he will present his findings next Wednesday, after which the proposed amendment could go to the full council.