Columbus Historic District Fines Unconstitutional

Ohio cities violate private property rights when they criminalize landscaping and gardening

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law has filed an action in federal court on behalf of a Columbus couple threatened with 60 days in jail and fines of $100 per day after landscaping their front yard. Bryden Road couple Drew Stevens and Melanie Copenhaver face draconian penalties after planting a garden that the city ruled “incompatible” with the neighborhood.

“In Ohio, many zoning regulations needlessly interfere with private property rights, insult homeowners’ dignity, and defeat the very purpose of home-ownership. This regulation is no different,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “Columbus pretends to be engaged in historic preservation, but instead subjects homeowners to the arbitrary personal preferences of neighborhood busybodies in search of conformity.”

The city claims Stevens and Copenhaver “destroyed a distinctive architectural feature” by replacing some of their grass with mulch and shrubs, a look that a city commission calls “too suburban.”

Through its Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the 1851 Center explains the Columbus ordinance and its penalties violate the Ohio Constitution through suppressing private property rights and imposing vague standards and excessive fines:

  • The regulation is unconstitutionally vague, insofar as it forces homeowners to avoid prosecution, and prove to a commission of volunteering and unaccountable nearby property owners that their yard is sufficiently “compatible” and “appropriate.”
  • Regulations professing to preserve historic architecture cannot be abused to accomplish gentrification, conformity and authoritarian control over private property.
  • Fines of $36,500 per year for gardening in one’s own yard are patently excessive.

“If home-ownership is to have meaning, Ohioans cannot be forced to obtain government permission to garden. Nor can they be thrown in jail for gardening without such permission, which is only granted when a government commission finds their yard ‘appropriate,’” said Thompson.

The 1851 Center draws a distinction between regulation seeking to preserve historically significant buildings and those regulating blades of grass.

The case is pending before Judge Marbley in the Eastern Division of the Southern District of Ohio.

Read the 1851 Center’s Complaint HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

View photos of the Bryden Road home before and after landscaping HERE.


The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a nonprofit, nonpartisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, regulation, taxation, and searches and seizures.