Briefing Room: it is legal to put stuff on your property to give away

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Good Morning Lt. Nicholas,

I’ve always been concerned about people that leave their belongings out in front of their home with a “FREE” sign attached. It seems to me that this attracts undesirables into neighborhoods and might lead to thefts. What do you think?

—Dave

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your question. I had to do a little research to find the answer to this.

The Seal Beach Municipal Code (§7.20.020) prohibits a person from storing “any personal property in or on any city property, public property or public right-of-way.” However, it does not apply to private property in which a person has a legal right to occupy. SBMC §7.20.075 prohibits placing signs on public property.

Another Municipal Code section (§7.35.010) prohibits “The presence of abandoned, discarded, unused or deteriorating materials, objects or equipment, including without limitation furniture, bedding, machinery, packing boxes, cans, containers or vehicles.” I don’t think this section would apply in this situation because the property owner is normally monitoring or checking on the items they are giving away. Our Code Enforcement will typically follow up with the property owner to ensure the items do not remain for a prolonged period of time.

California Penal Code §556.1 states “It is a misdemeanor for any person to place or maintain or estate or right of possession any sign, picture, transparency, advertisement, or mechanical device which is used for the purpose of advertising, or which advertises or brings to notice any person, article of merchandise, business or profession, or anything that is to be or has been sold, bartered, or given away, without the consent of the owner, lessee, or person in lawful possession of such property before such sign, picture, transparency, advertisement, or mechanical device is placed upon the property.”

The important part here is the consent or control of the property owner, lessee, or person in lawful possession of the property.

So as best as I can tell, it is not illegal to place items on your property to give away for free, so long as they are on your property and you have the legal authority over that property. Similarly, the City of Seal Beach does not require permits for yard sales. So long as the sign or property isn’t on public property, such as the sidewalk, this isn’t illegal.

As far as attracting crime, that is harder to say. If you look on websites such as Nextdoor.com, there are “curb alert” listings for free items left on curbs. There are hundreds of variables that may or may not lead to a crime occurring. As I’ve written in the past, the Routine Activity Theory states that three key elements need to occur at the same time and in the same place in order for a crime to be committed:

• A likely offender.

• A suitable target.

• The absence of a capable guardian.

Regardless of whether someone places property to give away for free in their yard, Seal Beach residents and businesses should focus on “hardening” the target and making the property that they don’t want removed less attractive to criminals.

Thanks again for your question Dave. Seal Beach, please keep them coming! Email them to askacop@sealbeachca.gov.