Keep Portland Laws Weird: Top 9 Strangest Local Ordinances

As an experienced lawyer, there’s nothing I take more seriously than the law and providing my clients with the best legal representation possible. But while the law is serious business and not something to be taken lightly, it can also be confusing and sometimes downright absurd.

In today’s blog post I’ll show you some of the weirdest laws in Portland and the state of Oregon. I’ll also do my best to explain why these laws exist and help you understand why a law might be needed, even if it seems a bit silly at first.

Let’s get started!

1. Portland’s Public Bathrooms? One Person At A Time, Please!

Portland is (somewhat) well-known for its distinctive outdoor restrooms. You’ll find them around the waterfront and near the downtown Park Blocks. But did you know that there’s an entire set of regulations governing their use (as well as the use of other public restrooms)?

Chapter 14A.50.110 of the Portland city code covers Misuse of a Public Restroom. Prohibited activities include multiple people in a 1-person bathroom and blocking the entrance of a public restroom.

The intent of these laws seems to be prohibiting drug and prostitution activity in public restrooms that plagued many cities.

2. Limits on Murals

There are some amazing artists in Portland who create really impressive outdoor murals and works of art. But did you know that Chapter 4.20.020 prohibits murals on residential buildings with 4 or fewer apartments/units. This law may be intended to prevent outrageous painting on smaller buildings and single-family homes.

3. Highways Are For Driving-- Not Showing Off Your Strength!

This isn’t just a Portland law but it is plenty weird. ORS 811.125 describes the crime of speed racing on state highways. In summary, DON’T DO IT!

However, an interesting clause adds that “a test of physical endurance” is also prohibited. So if you were planning on lifting weights while driving, put away the dumbbells until you get to the gym!

4. Riding Your Skateboard? Don’t Even Think About Getting Towed By A Car!

Not only is this a TERRIBLY UNSAFE idea, it’s prohibited by the Portland City Charter (16.70.410). This law prohibits many activities, including being towed by a motor vehicle when on roller skates, scooters, or other human powered devices.

More importantly, the law sets the boundaries for areas where you can’t skateboard or rollerblade (or use similar methods of transportation) on the sidewalk or street. This is intended to keep pedestrians and drivers safe!

5. Wheelless RV in Your Yard? It’s Still an RV!

Otherwise known as a trailer coach, Portland City Code (8.32.110) specifies that even if you take the wheels off, your RV or trailer coach is still governed by all laws that apply to these vehicles. The same goes for putting your coach on posts or cement blocks.

In other words, you can’t just transform your RV, bus, or coach into a house by taking the wheels off. If you want such a vehicle to be considered a legal dwelling you’ll need to conform with Portland’s (often complicated) housing and building codes!

6. Attention Portland Hospitals: Doors Only in Doorways!

Portland City Code (8.24.320) states that in a hospital or prison, fabric drapes can’t be used instead of a door when a doorway or door frame is present. Drapes can be used to subdivide a space, but NOT in place of a door.

This law is primarily intended to protect patient and inmate safety and privacy. It also helps to mitigate the risk posed by a dangerous fire.

7. Watch That Compost!

Did you know that the smell from any animal or vegetable matter in your yard can’t “become putrid or cause or create any noisome or offensive odor.” This is laid out in Portland City Code (8.36.050) and is clearly meant to protect your neighbors from potentially offensive smells.

But who’s to say what sort of smell is “putrid”? As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure-- but just make sure it doesn’t stink!

8. You Can Give A Police Officer a Ticket!

According to ORS 153.058, a private party can issue a ticket under a variety of circumstances-- even to police officers! These are known as “citizen citations” and there have been a few times the law has been used locally.

In 2015 a man issued a citation to a driver in 2015 after police chose not to. In addition, a police officer was cited by a private citizen for parking illegally in front of a restaurant in NW Portland! The Oregonian outlines the process for issuing a citizen citation in this article.

9. Opening Your Car Door? Keep This Law In Mind!

One of Oregon’s more unusual traffic laws is ORS 811.490, “improper opening or leaving open of vehicle door.” As a driver, you must not:

  • Open your door until it is reasonably safe to do so

  • Leave your door open any longer than necessary

Now, you don’t need to be counting “1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi…” to stay within the law, but you do need to be certain that you’re not endangering bicyclists, pedestrians, other drivers, yourself, or your passengers. Breaking this law is a Class D traffic violation.

Remember: All Laws Are Important

Don’t take today’s lighthearted post the wrong way. It’s important to obey all laws, even those that might seem a little unusual at first. They were created for a reason and should be respected.

Do You Need a Lawyer You Can Trust?

If you or someone you care about needs a criminal defense, personal injury or DUI lawyer in Portland, call me, Adam Greenman at (503) 227-3800 or contact me online. Your initial consultation is always free, always confidential, and I take every case seriously.

I’m here to help.

Photo Credits: Sam Beebe, eddiecoyote, Sarah McDevitt, Ian Sane, James Wood, Michel Curi, Tony Webster, Ian Sane, joshchua