January 8 roundup

  • Lenawee County, Mich. authorities have posted condemnation notices on Old Order Amish farmhouses over their use of outhouses rather than modern septic systems as required by code. Dispute now heading for court [Tom Henry, Toledo Blade]
  • Baltimore Mayor Young promotes white-van-abduction urban legends, police misconduct transparency, Montgomery County is watching drivers and more in my latest Maryland policy roundup [Free State Notes]
  • Following outcry from activists, Facebook disables as misleading ads some trial lawyer ads soliciting plaintiffs to sue over purported side effects of HIV prevention drugs [Tony Romm, Washington Post/Toronto Star, Peter Lawrence Kane, The Guardian, WTHR]
  • From Lowering the Bar, legal things that actually did happen in 2019;
  • 20 years ago I warned that by trying to dictate employers’ choices, a Wisconsin law might work to impede convict re-entry into the job market rather than encourage it [Reason, from its archives]
  • If county and city law enforcement officials have discretion not to charge low-level drug offenders, do they also have discretion not to charge low-level gun offenders? [Cam Edwards, National Review on Virginia battle over “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions]


  • RE: Lenawee County. Who suspects that a developer has his eyes on that land and intends to buy it on the cheap? Why has it become so urgent of a matter that the county is going for condemnation? Something doesn’t smell right about this to me.

  • “The county is threatening to declare their homes uninhabitable because, it says in a lawsuit filed in September, they have refused to comply with its demand that they install flush toilets and a sewage system that can be pumped out.”

    The flush toilets demand is silly. A simple outhouse uses no valuable water. It might just be a county angle to collect hook-up fees and increase taxable assessed value.

    Pit toilets do release measureable levels of fecal bacteria and could contaminate shallow aquifers. A lot depends on the porousity of the soil and ground-water saturation. Nice folks I’m sure, but tradition doesn’t trump sanitation, especially for their secular neighbors. It’s a new community (2015) with no history of safe contaminant loads. A good solution is a septic tank with a leach field. No electricity required. But it does require water.

    • “It might just be a county angle to collect hook-up fees and increase taxable assessed value. ”

      The county is demanding that they install septic systems. This involves a holding tank that has to be pumped out, generally by private contractors. These systems are isolated, they don’t hook up to any kind of government run sewer system.

      They aren’t insisting on a municipal/county sewer hookups, so no hookup fees.

      And these systems run just fine on well water, so no water utility hookup needed either.

  • The county has a response here:


    That claims outhouses in principle are fine and are used in their own parks, it is just how the stuff cleaned out of the holes is disposed of that’s the issue.

    Also says that initial investigation is in response to a complaint about surface dumping of sewage.

    I’m not particularly convinced, as this seems a CYA move that does not agree with fairly credible press reports about what the town has been demanding of the homeowners.

    Current county sewer laws have a date of 2013, at first glance they require any toilet to be connected to an approved septic system, and all septic systems to have county approval via their permitting process, and has stuff about penalties such as condemnation for homes with non-compliant toilet/septic system systems.

    (as a side note, the online version of the health code is a scan, so it is not text-searchable, and their Gotham rounded font reminds me of Comic Sans)

    Looking at the resolution of court cases in PA, OH, MO, WI and elsewhere in MI, courts seem inclined to say the “state” has a compelling interest in the regulations, so tough luck to the defendant, although most of those are pro-se defense and without expert opinion on the efficacy of unlined-outhouse or outhouse with other disposal in meeting the state’s goals.

    • The question is–can people poop in their own backyard. I think that depends on where the property is and how big the property is. Outhouses are as old as the republic. I am inclined to say that it’s an inherent right in a rural setting.

      Rabbits and deer poop in my yard constantly.