One Person’s Junk Is Another’s Castle, in Ogden Utah

city illusAw, c’mon, are the city authorities really tearing down a kids’ cardboard fort in Ogden, Utah? It would appear so. According to news reports, Ogden City Code Enforcement ordered Jeremy and Dee Trentelman, parents, to remove the huge play castle that they’d put together for their two toddlers in their front yard.

It’s an impressive structure, built mostly of boxes, and containing a slide, trap door, tunnel, windows, and of course endless room for imagination. But the city is calling it “waste materials or junk,” and will penalize the Trentelmans $125 if they don’t get rid of it within 15 days.

Are cardboard castles really illegal in Ogden, Utah? To answer this, we have to go to the city codes. In Section 12-4-2 of the Property Maintenance Regulations, it says, “It is unlawful for any owner, occupant, agent or lessee of real property within the city, to allow, cause or permit the following material or objects to be in or upon any yard, garden, lawn, or outdoor premises of such property: 1. Junk or salvage material.”

That raises the obvious question, “What’s junk or salvage material?” As any lawyer can tell you, many laws and regulations contain a definitions section, and this one is no exception. Section 15-2-11 of the Definitions has this:

JUNK OR SALVAGE MATERIAL: Articles that are used, secondhand, worn out, obsolete, defective, destroyed or discarded and which may be reused or resold in their original form, or which may have outlived their usefulness in their original form and are commonly gathered up and sold to be converted into another product either of the same or a different kind by some manufacturing or recycling process, or which may be salvaged by separating, collecting, or retrieving reusable materials or parts therefrom. Junk or salvage material includes, but is not limited to, inoperable vehicles, auto parts or parts from other types of vehicles, tires, machinery or parts thereof, building materials, scrap metal or other scrap material, and recyclable materials when not located in a recycling processing center, but does not include refuse or hazardous materials. No article shall be considered “used” or “secondhand” for purposes of this definition, if the article is being used in its original form in conjunction with a main use established in conformance with this title, other than those uses involving salvaging or recycling. 

Okay, so arguably cardboard boxes, being used and recyclable, might be considered junk. But the more you look at this definition, the slipperier it gets. Would an artwork out of repurposed metal be junk? How about a faded plastic castle that was bought at a garage sale, and is therefore “used?”

The city can basically do what it wants with this definition, and it no doubt overlooks many objects that would meet it. So why did it go after the Trentelmans?

I would have guessed that a neighbor complained. The neighbors who were interviewed for the news coverage seemed supportive, but it just takes one to pick up the phone. Meanwhile, others in the community are actually building castles in solidarity! I’m looking forward to the photos.