Houston, We Have a Problem: City Sues Disabled Couple for Hosting Too Many Garage Sales

The city says elderly Jorge and Maria Ramos are violating deed restrictions in their neighborhood.

(Photo: Sharon Lapkin/Getty Images)

Jul 9, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That’s especially true when you’re hitting up a garage sale. Not only do the sales provide customers with the perfect way to find inexpensive furniture or dishes, but they’re also eco-friendly. Instead of buying new things, gently used items that have been upcycled can be toted home. But earning an income through their sales has landed one elderly Houston couple in hot water. The city is suing to make the garage sales stop.

Jorge and Maria Ramos have been hosting the sales on a daily basis to supplement their income. Jorge is blind in both eyes and only gets a meager disability check. According to the city of Houston website, garage sales aren’t regulated, and there is no “garage sale permit.” However, Houston stipulates that “residents are allowed to have only two such sales within a 12-month period. Any more than two and the resident is recognized as having a business and must obtain a sales-tax permit from the state.”

Sure enough, the couple got a permit from the state of Texas allowing it to run a home business, reports KROI-FM. However, last week, the city filed suit to shut down the operation. Houston isn’t suing the couple directly—it's going after the Ramos’ landlord because the sales are a violation of deed restrictions in the community.

The city also claims that one of the Ramos’ neighbors complained about the constant selling of items. However, they aren’t the only ones hosting garage sales in their community. Another neighbor also hosts daily sales, and there haven’t been any complaints against that individual.

Their son, Robert Ramos, believes that his parents are being harassed by the city, and they’re too poor to hire an attorney to fight back. “They barely even make [enough] to pay the bills, the rent, the food, and all that,” he told KROI-FM. Without the income from the garage sales, the Ramos family isn’t sure what they’ll do to support themselves.