City shoots down couch ban

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While cities across the country have banned residents from putting indoor sofas and chairs outside, Minneapolis won’t be joining their ranks anytime soon.

A proposal seeking to rid the city of all upholstered furniture manufactured for indoor use placed on lawns or exposed porches failed 9-4 at the Minneapolis City Council Friday.

The amendment, which was brought before the city’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee in early March, sought an ordinance to state that indoor furniture placed outdoors would constitute a nuisance, and could be punished by removal and a fine.

The amendment was fashioned after an ordinance passed in Boulder, Colo., another city with a large student population.

Ward 3 Councilmember Diane Hofstede, who proposed the amendment, said the furniture posed a serious safety issue, citing the 2003 house fire in Southeast Como that killed three University of Minnesota students.

The suspected cause was careless smoking, which ignited indoor furniture placed on the students’ porch.

However, a review from the Minneapolis Fire Marshall, Bryan Tyner, found that only seven out of more than 5,000 fires fought between 2006 and 2008 were caused by upholstered furniture being used outdoors — or about 1 percent.

Hofstede read a letter from the parents of Amanda Speckien , one of the students killed in the fire.

“It breaks our hearts to see couches on these open porches, and there are many,” the letter read. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Council president Barbara Johnson echoed Hofstede’s concerns.

“I remember when that happened because I had children in school,” she said. “As a parent, you hope that rules enforced by the government and the school will protect your children.”

Hofstede also said they can contain mice, rats and asthma-causing mold.

Ward 2 Councilmember Cam Gordon , who represents a large portion of the University community, said he agreed that indoor furniture placed on lawns was a nuisance, but said he didn’t want to see furniture on porches banned.

“I know a lot of my constituents enjoy the opportunity to put different kinds of furniture on their porches,” he said.

Gordon said banning the furniture on porches went too far.

“It’s determining aesthetics,” he said. “That’s going too far in another direction.”

Gordon said that there is already a nuisance condition that prohibits “foul” or “unhealthy” material on a property.

Ward 10 Councilmember Ralph Remington said the current nuisance condition allows neighbors to call 311 to report “unsafe” furniture on property to be tagged and removed by the city.

“It’s duplicity in law,” Remington said.

University political science and history sophomore Willy Wepsala said city officials asked him to get rid of several couches on his porch.

“They told us that they didn’t want animals to nest in them, but we never had a problem with that,” he said. Wepsala said the couches were eventually picked up by the city.

Gordon also said that having furniture on porches builds a sense of community and provides “eyes on the street.”

Microbiology senior Jon Strong said he and some friends saw a person hit a parked car while they were sitting on his porch.

“We guilt tripped him into leaving a note,” Strong said.

Strong, who bought his couch for $10 at a Goodwill store specifically for using on his porch, said he’s glad the ban didn’t pass.

“It’s a good way to enjoy the outdoors and hang out with friends,” he said.