The Legality of Toilet Planters: Answer Man Tackles the Question

Now who could be opposed to reuse and recycling? Go green, woo hoo! Just don’t go green where you , uh, you know, go!

A toilet planter via VTscapes on Flickr

Is it a tad enviro-ugly if your neighbor reuses an out-to-pasture  toilet for a whimsical planter? Surely there’s a law! A code? Something? A regulatory loophole somewhere that would prevent such a tasteless display in your well-manicured suburban oasis?

The complex legal issues surrounding toilet planters were covered in a recent post to “Answer Man” in Rochester, Minnesota’s…and we don’t think the questioner will be happy with the lawyer-approved answer!

Dear Answer Man, is it legal to plant flowers in an old toilet and keep it in your front yard in this lovely city of ours? A neighbor recently did this and it doesn’t do much to enhance the otherwise nice, well-kept neighborhood. In fact, I cringe every day when I drive by it. I could see maybe in the backyard or at the end of a long, dirt road, but in the middle of northwest Rochester? Please help me to clear the air.

I’m always happy to flush out the truth. To help with the flushing, I called City Attorney Terry Adkins, who said it was the very first time in his career that he’s heard this question.

There’s no ordinance to prohibit the use of a toilet as a flower pot, but a few lines in the city housing code get close to the mark. “The open area of your premises must be kept in a reasonably clean and neat condition, including the removal of all inoperable machines, appliances, fixtures and equipment,” the code says.

“I suppose someone could make the argument that a toilet out there is inoperable” and thus violates the code, Terry says. But then he called the city building safety department. Amazingly, “they have received some complaints (historically) and have taken the position that it’s not a violation of the ordinance,” reasoning that the “fixture” in this case is “operable” because it’s loaded with plants.

If it wasn’t used as a planter and was simply in the front yard, presented as a Duchampian work of art, it presumably would be illegal. At least that’s the response of the city.

And in my idyllic suburbia? I come down squarely in favor of toilet planters; in fact, I have one of my own, though please note that my interpretation uses only the tank and is displayed privately in my backyard. (Happily filled with impatiens right now.)

gayle leonard's flower planter made from a recycled toilet tank

I’ll bet the toilet gardener in question imagines they are quite creative, but the idea is not unique; a quick search on Flickr produces a ton of dirt on the topic!

5 replies
  1. Marcie anderson
    Marcie anderson says:

    I am also a gardener with a recycled toilet which I have painted red and placed in my flower bed under my front window. It has thriving with strawberries planted in the tank and red white and blue petunias in the bowl. It is surrounded by other varieties of plants as well. I received a citation for mine but still refuse to let it go. I have agreed to move it to the back yard, but plan to add more toilets. I say get creative…….whats the big deal. Sounds like the people in Rochester as well as my town of Joplin Mo. need to loosen up and quit trying to stifle peoples gardening techniques. As long as I am being tasteful, and not harming anyones health why should it matter. Maybe you would like to tell people what books they can read and what kind of car they can park in their driveway too. People like you put everyone in jeopardy of losing simple freedoms because you laque the ability to think outside the box and expect everyone to live inside yours. You want everyone to live and think like you but heaven forbid you see anyone elses point of view. You mind your yard and let your neighbors mind theirs. It is a toilet with flowers in it, at least it isnt going to the landfill where it will never breakdown.

  2. Janice
    Janice says:

    I put two this week by my large picture window in the front yard. I think it is beautiful and whimsical. My daughter plans to paint the seat and lid. Unfortunately, a neighbor left a not in my paper box telling me it is disgusting, unsanitary, lacking curb appeal, and does not fit in with the neighborhood and that I would do best to remove it. The letter was signed a concerned neighbor.

    They are still in my front yard but I am debating, my children, two of which are adults say I should keep them there. I just don’t know right now.

  3. chellethesouthernbelle
    chellethesouthernbelle says:

    it’s your yard Janice….never mind what the neighbors think, it’s only because it was once a toilet that people have an issue with it…now it’s a planter…I say use and re-purpose, turn things into something useful or beautiful or both….

  4. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I just went to court today over my toilet planters. I have 3 in my front yard. I won my case so far the township still has the chance to appel. I wish people would mind their own yards and let people be individuals. I live in Michigan out in the country.

  5. Gayle Leonard
    Gayle Leonard says:

    Congrats on the victory, Melissa, and for taking a stand (or seat!?) for creative reuse. Do keep us updated (and a photo would be awesome, too!)

Comments are closed.