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Lawrence city commissioners narrowly approve ban on porch couches

August 27, 2013

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The tradition of front porch couches at student apartments is on the way out in Lawrence.

But more than students may end up caring. City commissioners Tuesday narrowly passed a citywide ban of upholstered furniture on porches, decks and patios, after fire officials said the frequent practice in student neighborhoods created a fire risk.

Now, disobeying the new ban may create a risk for landlords. City officials clarified that in the case of rental properties, it will be the landlords — not tenants — who ultimately face any fine for violating the new law.

“The property owner will have the responsibility of having a good lease to ensure that the property remains in compliance with the code,” City Manager David Corliss told commissioners.

Technically fines can start at $100 per day, but city officials said they first simply would ask tenants and then property owners to remove the outlawed furniture. The issue of fines and enforcement were two of many issues that city commissioners struggled with at their weekly meeting. Commissioners approved the ban on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Mike Amyx and Jeremy Farmer opposing the ban.

Both commissioners said they thought the city already had appropriate language in their codes to prohibit indoor furniture from being placed on porches, decks and patios, if the city really thought it was a problem.

“I see this more as telling people what to do, and where does that stop?” Farmer said. “A lot of people I have talked to have said the same thing. I have gotten dozens of comments.

But the public was largely quiet Tuesday night. No one from the public spoke against the ban. Only one neighborhood member spoke in favor of it.

A majority of commissioners said they thought there was solid precedent for the ban.

“I think this just makes our intention a lot clearer and lot more enforceable,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “I’m not trying to tell people how to live or how to socialize. It is kind of like the old pop bottle rockets. I loved shooting them off as a kid, but they just cause too many fires.”

Fire department statistics showed that since 2007 there had been 10 fires — out of 463 total structure fires — that involved upholstered furniture on porches, decks or patios. But Fire Chief Mark Bradford said the quick burning nature of the furniture, and the lack of smoke alarms on porches made them particularly dangerous. Several other university cities, including Lincoln, Neb., Ames, Iowa, and Columbia, Mo., already have bans in place.

City officials haven’t set a date to begin enforcing the ban. Instead, they said they’ll spend several months doing an educational effort, especially in student neighborhoods, to try to gain voluntary compliance.

The ban won’t affect lawn chairs or other types of furniture that are specifically made for outdoor use.

In other news, commissioners:

• Unanimously approved a 10-year, 50 percent tax abatement to help Sunlite Science & Technologies move into a space at 4811 Quail Crest Place. Commissioners approved the request for the LED lighting manufacturer despite it being a smaller than normal project for tax abatements. The company plans to invest $2.3 million over 10 years. The city’s tax abatement policy recommends companies be required to invest at least $5 million over 10 years before they are eligible for an abatement. Commissioners said they may want to revise that policy to better fit today’s economy.

• Unanimously approved permits for two downtown runs: The Color Run on Sept. 14 and the Glow Run on Oct. 12. Commissioners agreed to require organizers of The Color Run to submit $20,000 deposit to ensure the downtown area is properly cleaned up following the event, which is expected to attract about 7,000 runners.

Comments

Currahee 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm so glad our commissioners are doing important things, such as banning couches on porches. Now the real war against the existence of porches can begin. Those wooden things can catch on fire too!

4

buffalo63 11 months, 4 weeks ago

There already is an ordinance about indoor furniture outside a residence. Is there not enough language in that one to enforce? Maybe that should have been modified instead of adding more. Make codes that can be enforced or don't make them in the first place.

4

smileydog 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Where will my chickens sleep? On the bright side, when the homeland security drones start hovering above our streets, they won't be seeing me or my chickens hanging outside on our couch.

Now if only there was an ordinance for....hmmmm. How about bicyclists must use the bike path instead of the street if there's one along a major street...nah, that's a state legislature issue. I'll come up with something...severed foot kept in a jar still legal for the porch? Yes.

2

Centurion 11 months, 4 weeks ago

My next porch couch will be eco friendly. It'll be made out of sticks and have dried leaves for cushioning.

7

mongoose 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I see a demand for lawn couches in the future!

2

Richard Heckler 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I wonder how many house fires are ignited by a smoker in bed?

Tons of lawn furniture has upholstered cushions. Wicker is acceptable both indoor and outdoor.

Seems to me upholstered couches could be as dangerous in the living room more than outdoors if a house was burning. The temperature of a house fire will burn and/or melt most items.

This is all about "appearances". A sofa on a porch cannot impact property values such that neglected rental properties accomplish. Then again owners of these properties are city commissioners,former city commissioners,planning g commissioners,members of the chamber and employees within local government not to mention big time local movers and shakers.

3

John Kyle 11 months, 3 weeks ago

as the article points out, the residence should have smoke alarms inside which would detect a fire but porches tend to not have smoke alarms which means the fires can get out of control before being detected.

0

Sue McDaniel 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Seriously, the landlord??? I doubt they had a thing to do with it and don't like it either. THE tenants did it, fine them!!!!

5

Cai 11 months, 4 weeks ago

To be fair, any landlord worth their salt will turn around and put either an eviction or responsibility clause in their lease. Something to the effect of "If the city fines me for a couch on the porch while you're on the lease, you owe me twice that. If it happens a second time within 18 months, you're evicted for non-compliance with city ordinances"

1

richfree 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Ten fires out of 463... or 2.16 % of fires are caused by upholstered furniture on porches. What about upholstered furniture indoors? What about the almost 98% of other type of fires? What will the City do next to protect us from ourselves? Now, it's the landlords problem? Property owners beware !! Big Brother is watching.

4

Armored_One 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Wasn't there an arsonist setting fires last year? I'm reasonably sure they included those fires in that total as well...

0

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Tenants are clearly the ones breaking the law here if they put couches on the porch, and so they should pay the fine.

It's not reasonable to hold landlords responsible for that misbehavior.

2

George_Braziller 11 months, 4 weeks ago

All the landlord has to do is put wording in the lease stating that putting a couch on the porch is prohibited and that the tenant will be responsible for any incurred fines.

2

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Maybe so, if they can actually collect from the tenants.

But, even without such a provision in leases, I think tenants should have to pay - they're the ones breaking the law, not the landlords.

0

George_Braziller 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Once again it's wording in the lease. All they have to do is state that the fine will be added to their next month's rent and it must be paid in full. Pretty simple.

0

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Maybe. But it leaves the burden to landlords.

Since tenants are breaking the law, I think the city should enforce it against them, rather than making the landlord do it.

If/when tenants don't comply, it takes time for eviction, and landlords have to suffer those costs for quite a while (somewhere around 3 months), and then sue the tenants for it later on, all of which are serious hassles for them to deal with. And, they've done nothing wrong.

0

Charles L Bloss Jr 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Once again I am so glad I do not live in the dictatorship of Lawrence. I have always been fond of Bob Schumm, still am, but I cannot understand his vote on this. As for Amyx, he really surprised me by his vote. I never thought he had that much common sense. Just shows one is never too old to learn. There are many other serious causes of fire, shown by the Fire Department's own statistics, than an old couch on a front porch. I remain seriously concerned about the government telling us how to live our lives. This includes federal, state, county, and city governments. I suppose they think this justifies their existence, by making such silly rules and regulations. Absolutely incredible.

2

workinghard 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Did they give the landlord the power to remove the couch without being sued for taking their property? Does the landlord have to publish something in the paper saying they are going to remove it like they do before they can dispose of a tenants abandoned property?

2

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Probably not.

But, they can evict the tenant for breaking the lease, if they put a provision in those prohibiting porch couches.

0

Matthew Herbert 11 months, 4 weeks ago

a typical eviction in Lawrence, Kansas takes on average 90 days minimum. That means $9,000 in assessed fines to the landlord @$100/day.

1

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Did you see my above post, where I state unequivocally that tenants should pay these fines?

0

Matthew Herbert 11 months, 4 weeks ago

since this is CLEARLY a fire safety issue and CERTAINLY not a disguised pretentious aesthetics issue, I'm sure the commission will be fine with me replacing my porch couch with several old toilets I can use as lounging chairs. After all, porcelain is not easily flammable! It's really safe!

21

Alceste 11 months, 4 weeks ago

no mention in the article about the vote as in who voted yes and who voted no. why not?

0

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Approved on a 3-2 vote, with Amyx and Farmer voting no.

It's right there in the article.

2

Alceste 11 months, 4 weeks ago

excuse the ineffective speed read, jafs. I see it now. thanks

0

oldexbeat 11 months, 4 weeks ago

gonna take these away ?  Huh ?

gonna take these away ? Huh ? by oldexbeat

Does expensive and new count ? Or just used and poor ? Huh ?

5

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

The distinction in the law is between "indoor" and "outdoor" furniture.

1

gatekeeper 11 months, 4 weeks ago

And the photo above could be either. Who decides?

3

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

The city decides, I would imagine.

If it were a reasonable distinction, there would be some sorts of differences between how the furniture was constructed, so that outdoor furniture is more suitable for outdoor use.

0

elliottaw 11 months, 4 weeks ago

the picture is not upholstered furniture, is has removable cushions leaving a "stand" that is not made of material

0

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

As I said, the distinction is between "indoor" and "outdoor" furniture.

1

11 months, 4 weeks ago

At the meeting, the fire chief said outdoor furniture has a tag on it that says it is rated for outdoor use. Thanks, Chad.

0

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Ah, thanks.

Then, there shouldn't have been a problem with enforcing the existing ordinance, except for the question of whether a porch is outside, which seems self evident to me.

Unless, of course, it's an "enclosed porch" - how will those be treated with the new ordinance, if you know?

1

gatekeeper 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I have a screened in porch that is considered livable square footage. I also have what they call "outdoor" furniture, but the cushions on it are just as flammable as any couch would be. The distinction of outdoor furniture is usually that it can hold up to weather (rain, snow, etc...), but they're all flammable.

This law is just stupid.

1

john heleniak 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I was under the impression that having couches on the porch was already against the law. I thought it was against fire codes to have a couch on the porch.

0

Haiku_Cuckoo 11 months, 4 weeks ago

When I was in school our rental house had a couch on the porch. In a matter of months it turned into a mildew-covered mouse nest. I think the rodent issue is just as much of a concern as the fire issue. I found out the hard way that couches on porches are not a good idea.

5

Ron Holzwarth 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I had a recliner, a high quality one, but it was older, that I placed on the front porch. Within two months the mold and mildew smell was so terrible I had to put it out with the trash.

0

John Spencer 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Mike Amyx and Jeremy Farmer will be getting my vote next election. Not the others, I'll vote for anyone else. Ridiculous waste of our money, when so many other things are more important.

4

Jason Johnson 11 months, 4 weeks ago

If I ever run for city council, I would have voted no as well. But I'm libertarian, and "laws" like this are already on the books, so why create more?

0

rumor_man 11 months, 4 weeks ago

It's the Payless Furniture and Bed Mart sign wavers at 23rd & Iowa's fault. Ban them.

5

buffalo63 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Did they have to get a permit for the sign wavers? Payless even has one at 23rd & Louisiana. Just wondering. Much more of a distraction than car lot signs, balloons, etc.

1

foxli 11 months, 4 weeks ago

They even had one at Sixth and Michigan last week. It's getting a little out of hand.

0

Boston_Corbett 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Trash is trash. And upholstered furniture outside is trash. If it takes "big government" to get someone to empty their trash, I am all for "big government."

Thanks Dever, Schumm, and Riordan.

3

tanaumaga 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Dr. Riordan did not like the view from his castle.

2

elliottaw 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Good move by the city, sometimes you just have to force the hillbilly out of people.

3

Phoghorn 11 months, 4 weeks ago

No, they are forcing the hippie out of people. Hillbillies use rocking chairs.

2

Richard Heckler 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I say this concern got feet because some folks think the couch on the porch is tacky.

If anyone believes land lords will be held accountable for the fines then guess what I've got lake front property for sale in a very unusual location.

I've always been under the impression that a patio is outside in the open and on a hard surface such as river gravel, concrete,pavers etc etc etc ...... nothing like a front porch. A matter of semantics perhaps.

A decision based on less than 2 fires a year?

Bring on the rockin chairs and Jayhawk basketball outside.

1

Topple 11 months, 4 weeks ago

City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “I’m not trying to tell people how to live or how to socialize. It is kind of like the old pop bottle rockets. I loved shooting them off as a kid, but they just cause too many fires.”

Yea, upholstered furniture is widely known for causing fires...

How is it, exactly, that outdoor upholstered furniture is a fire hazard but indoor upholstered furniture is not?

1

gccs14r 11 months, 4 weeks ago

You have smoke detectors inside. If a couch goes up on the porch, by the time the residents figure it out all of their escape routes may be compromised.

1

Richard Heckler 11 months, 4 weeks ago

This couch on the porch made the Kansas City Star. Questioning our city commissioners sanity may well be on trial.

0

Richard Heckler 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Over and above the couch on the porch taxpayers one day will need to make a rather smart decision.

How many more tax dollar abatements do the taxpayers want to see given away as a matter of everyday routine business. It is my position that every city commission meeting with damn few exceptions increase the cost of living to residents in Lawrence,Kansas.

Increase the cost of living by way of increasing property values, user fees, property taxes,sales taxes or whatever to cover the cost of those not paying their fair share. Yes annually we get nickel dimed so often it is hard to recall how many over the past decade have taken place. Which adds to to enough money that could be better spent at a local retail operation.

1

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Nobody has yet explained why we need this new ordinance, when the existing one already prohibits indoor furniture outside.

Why not just enforce the existing ordinance? And, if we're not, then why is there any reason to believe we'll enforce the new one any better?

1

gccs14r 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Because some people don't think of a porch as being "outside".

0

11 months, 4 weeks ago

City officials last night said they weren't confident they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the previous ordinance on the books could be applied to upholstered furniture on porches. It left open an argument about whether a whether a porch was an exterior part of the home, and it also left open to debate what was outdoor furniture. The new ordinance is more specific on both counts. Thanks, Chad

0

wineguy 11 months, 4 weeks ago

So if I move the couch into my yard to sit on it, we're cool then, right?

1

akt2 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Move your couch to the yard and your beer pong table to the porch.

1

Matthew Herbert 11 months, 4 weeks ago

49 LJworld comments, 48 of which are critical of their vote. Awesome. Good job representing your constituents, city commission.

2

jafs 11 months, 4 weeks ago

A rather small sample, to be sure.

Population of Lawrence is about 90,000.

1

William Enick 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Maybe..but I'm gettin old....It would make me wanna "go" all the time....just seeing the thing....gotta go.....

1

pizzapete 11 months, 4 weeks ago

The Lawrence visitor center needs to start handing out brochures explaining all the random rules and regulations our commissioners have come up with to help save us from ourselves. Or maybe we should have them posted alongside the downtown charity meters, no wait, that would be a fire hazard.

2

LawrenceTownie 11 months, 4 weeks ago

The City hasn't decided when to begin enforcing the ban. Instead, they will do educational effort, especially in student neighborhoods, to gain "voluntary compliance". Now where have I heard that one before? Perhaps in WWII?

Hey here is what I suggest to impress the Commissioners: Everyone in Lawrence who has a front porch, carry that living room sofa out and spend the evening sitting on it. Talk to the people who walk in front of your house with friends or pets. You would get to know all your neighbors that way. You might enjoy the experience. Wouldn't it be fun if all the front porch home owners planned a "sit out" day?

Anyone game?

0

pizzapete 11 months, 4 weeks ago

That sounds like a great idea.

0

elliottaw 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I do remember reading about how Hitler forced all the people to take couches of their porches

1

Phoghorn 11 months, 4 weeks ago

GODWIN ALERT GODWIN ALERT GODWIN ALERT GODWIN ALERT

0

cowboy 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Next they will want to ban fireworks....

0

davisnin 11 months, 4 weeks ago

So then porch fires because of couches occur at a significantly lower rate than suspicious Compton property fires? I guess students just don't give enough bribes.

2

pizzapete 11 months, 4 weeks ago

The word on the street is that they'll be excepting couches at the corner of 9th and New Hampshire this weekend. Just drop your couch in the hole and they'll have their arson expert on hand to help get rid of them.

1

kernal 11 months, 4 weeks ago

If you have an indoor sofa on your front porch, put it out in the street so the city will pick it up for you.

0

Armored_One 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Anyone remember the fires on Tennessee Street last year that all but gutted a couple of houses? I seem to remember reading that those fires started on a porch with indoor furniture setting outside. Had those fires not been facing Tennessee Street, but instead the alley, what do you think the likelihood of it being confined to one house would be?

You are willing to ban the police department from ever using drones, but a couch is somehow sacrosanct?

cocking my head to the side like a dog listening but not understanding

0

Alpenglow 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Exactly! I recall a fire on Indiana a few years back caused by someone throwing fireworks on the couch on the front porch late at night where they smoldered for awhile. Some of the occupants were jumping out of the windows to escape the flames a short time later, one of them seriously injured. While the percentage may be low, the resulting damage collectively is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not worth it when loss of life is at risk.

0

gatekeeper 11 months, 4 weeks ago

The couch wasn't the problem, the illegal fireworks were. That was Darwinism at it's best. Let nature take its course.

1

Phoghorn 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Careful, then they will cite your for having "pot" on your porch...

1

jgkojak 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I find it funny that the couch issue (which is ridiculous) is getting all the attention and yet another tax abatement isn't.

1

pizzapete 11 months, 4 weeks ago

What abatement? I haven't heard anything about one recently.

0

KU_Dude 11 months, 4 weeks ago

When couches are outlawed only outlaws will have couches.

3

Ron Holzwarth 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I had quite a double take when I saw the couch used to illustrate this article a couple days ago. And now, it's there again. That was my old hide-a-bed couch! I recognized the couch, the dumpster, and the car in the background. I paid $40 to have it hauled out to the trash, and in its 50 or so years of use, it was never on a porch.

Talk about off topic,,,

0

maxofperry 11 months, 4 weeks ago

<#*&("":! Government at work. I hope everyone votes against the commissioners who voted for this. I hope everyone moves their couches to the front lawn, near the porch and continues to enjoy the atmosphere.

What could be next? No front porch...... let your mind consider the possibilities.

0

Ron Holzwarth 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Maybe we will have a new city ordinance requiring all newly constructed homes to be built of concrete. As I am sure you are aware, concrete is fireproof.

To hell with the utility bills, because concrete (and stone) homes cost a fortune to heat.

0

gccs14r 11 months, 3 weeks ago

If you insulate the outside of a stone structure, you heat it once and it stays warm. Yeah, that first heating will take awhile and be expensive, but then it will be much cheaper to sustain the temperature through the season.

0

Ron Holzwarth 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I have a story for you, and it's a fact. I could even locate the house, or what is left of it, for you if you want. There seemed to be nothing unusual about the house, but I don't really remember it very well, since I was only inside it once that I can recall, and I was very young at the time.

It was a farmhouse, and the family that lived there moved to town, and left the house vacant. Some years later it burned down. Or part of it did, anyway.

After the fire, it was revealed that contained within the wooden house was a smaller stone house that no one knew was there!

0

Meatwad 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I don't have a strong opinion on this either way. On one hand, people should be able to have a porch couch--they are very popular for students. On the other hand, I saw the outcome when one caught fire due to the tenant absent-mindedly dropping a cigarette (after all, he was outdoors). Sadly the whole front of the house went up in flames and had to be replaced by the owner. Too bad that several stupid people who smoke and weren't careful, have caused porch couches to be banned by everyone, but that's the way it goes. Porch couch fires are more common that I realized. Time for them to just get some proper outdoor furniture or use plastic chairs.

0

JustNoticed 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I am shocked, appalled and disgusted that it even occurs to the Commission that it might have authority over my porch furniture. And spare me the safety arguments. Is my freedom to have a porch couch worth the fires that might occur if they are not banned? Yes, absolutely, just as the consequences, deaths even, would be worth it if we shut down the police state we've become and began defending our freedom instead of thanking our oppressors for "protecting" us by assuming an absolute right over our persons and property when it suits their purposes. Does that sound extreme? Do you miss habeas corpus? Do you even know that it's gone? Do you think the President of the United States should have the power to assassinate a citizen of the United States? You know that's already happened, don't you?

1

Ron Holzwarth 11 months, 4 weeks ago

You claimed that having a couch on your front porch is worth the consequence of deaths, and that would be fine, because the deaths would be worth it. Then later in the paragraph, you also claimed that the President has assassinated a citizen of the United States as though that was a terrible thing.

Make up your mind. Is death a bad thing or not?

0

Boston_Corbett 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I am just shocked...shocked, I tell you, to learn that the City has electrical and construction codes. they regulate how and when I put my trash out. They even tell me I can not put my pick-up on cinder blocks in my front yard. We need to shut down this police state, even it takes deaths for us to gain our liberty.

1

Ron Holzwarth 11 months, 4 weeks ago

They make you mow your lawn too. Did you know that?

0

Bursting 11 months, 4 weeks ago

This is a perfect time to use our new armored vehicle!!! Couch enforcement!

1

sunny 11 months, 3 weeks ago

This is totally ridiculous! Is there a limit on how many ordinances there can be?

0

Carol Bowen 11 months, 3 weeks ago

An ordinance against upholstered furniture outdoors has existed for a long time. All the commission did was clarify and emphasize with a separate ordinance. If the commission had not passed the new ordinance, couches would still not be allowed outdoors because of existing ordinances. It's just a matter of enforcement. Why the debate?

1

Chris Ogle 11 months, 3 weeks ago

So can I still sit on my front porch toilet???

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