When a Housing Inspector Says It's Illegal to Keep a Bicycle in Your Garage

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, Eric Spiegelman tells us what happens when a housing inspector declares your private garage a bike-free zone.

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Eric! So what happened here?

A city housing inspector came by my building. I live in this fourplex, which is really two duplexes on different streets. I think what happened is that one of the tenants in the lower duplex complained to the housing department because the landlord wasn’t making repairs. I think this because he cornered me one day and told me he couldn’t turn off the faucet in his bathroom without a wrench.

When the housing inspector came he was obligated, I guess, to inspect the entire building. A few days later, I got a letter from the landlord that I needed to clean everything out of my garage, or he would throw it away for me. Something wasn’t right about this. I asked my landlord if that included my bike. He said, “What part of ‘everything’ don’t you understand?”

I called the housing department. The first woman I spoke to said the rule in Los Angeles is you can’t keep anything in your garage but a car. “What about a bicycle?” I asked. “Nope, you can’t have that.” “That’s crazy,” I said. She told me I should talk to the guy who conducted the inspection. So I went down to the local housing department office to talk to him. He confirmed that, yes, that’s the rule, and yes, it includes bicycles.

A friend I work with is a bike advocate, and I told her what was going on, and she emailed another bike advocate, who emailed people in government, and word got back to me that no law in California or Los Angeles bans keeping your bike in a garage. The actual rule is that there can’t be so much junk in a garage that a car won’t fit. I also got a copy of the order the housing department gave to my landlord.
The order said nothing about my garage. It did mention my lower duplex neighbor’s bathroom sink, however, as well as other stuff in his apartment. I emailed my landlord, and he said he knew the order didn’t say anything about my garage, but that the inspector gave him “a warning” about it.

In summary, the situation is that my landlord thinks he’s been given the authority by the city to throw away things in my garage, based on a warning from a housing inspector who misquoted the law.

Is there any way you can fight this?

Well, first, the housing inspector clearly screwed up. And my landlord, well, he obviously can’t just throw my stuff away. But I have a little bit of sympathy for him, since someone in a position to fine him gave him very wrong information. My plan is to try and get another inspector over here to confirm that I don’t have to move anything. If another inspector doesn’t get here in time, I’m going to hold my ground and probably sue if the landlord throws away my bike.

Lesson learned (if any)?

Well, I keep thinking I’m being a bit ridiculous. It’s a pretty small injustice. But it really bugs me. This is my home we’re talking about. I suppose I’ve learned that my tolerance for bullshit ends at my garage door.

Just one more thing.
I’ll let everyone know how it shakes out in the comments. I was asked to empty my garage by the 18th.

Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.