Property Rights

Neighbors Claim Los Angeles 'Emoji House' Is 'Bullying,' Demand New Rules Against Murals

Owners painted the house bright pink and added two funny emojis after neighbors complained about illegal Airbnb rentals.

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A brightly painted Los Angeles house featuring two large emoji symbols is a form of "bullying," according to someone who wants the city to take action against the building's owners.

What began as a dispute between neighbors in the city's El Porto neighborhood is threatening to become a First Amendment showdown. The Los Angeles Times reports that the pink "emoji house" was the subject of complaints during a Tuesday city council meeting, where some locals called for legal action against the mural. According to the Times, the bright pink paint job and emojis—one of them with its tongue sticking out and another with a zipper over its mouth—were added to the house in May, after neighbors complained about illegal short-term rentals at the property and the city fined the homeowner $4,000.

Susan Wieland, one of the neighbors who complained about the house to the city council on Tuesday night, tells the Times that Los Angeles officials are not doing enough to protect residents from the house's silly faces.

"And we really feel it is our city's responsibility to have these regulations in place because people can do anything," Wieland said. "That's the most frightening thing. I feel like we're not being protected against bullying."

Puh-lease. 

Painting your house—even doing so in a way that's deliberately intended to get under a neighbor's skin—is hardly an act of bullying.

It also happens to be protected by the First Amendment.

"I think it's scary when a small group of people thinks they can use the coercive power of government to get rid of anything they don't like," says Jeremy Talcott, a property rights attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation. "The homeowners here seem convinced that their distaste of a particular choice of paint is enough to justify government action, and that's just not so."

Talcott should know. He was the lead attorney in a case that bears more than a passing resemblance to the "emoji house" situation. In 2016, the town of Mount Dora, Florida, imposed more than $10,000 in fines against a couple who painted their house to resemble Vincent van Gogh's masterpiece Starry Night. The town ended up on the receiving end of a legal butt-kicking—the mayor made a public apology and the town paid $15,000 to the homeowners. This settlement was reached after a judge made it clear the town wasn't likely to get the First Amendment overturned just so it could continue its overzealous code enforcement.

As far as the Los Angeles neighbors' complaint about bullying goes, Talcott says nuisance laws likely wouldn't apply. Though there might be a point where a paint job crossed that line, "nuisance" as a legal concept is about protecting harm to neighbors or the public, not about removing annoyances, he tells Reason. The intent behind the paint job would not be relevant to whether it could be considered a nuisance or obscenity.

If the city takes action in Los Angeles, that would be even more egregious than what happened in Mount Dora, because officials wouldn't even be enforcing existing law—they'd be drafting new regulations specifically targetting the emoji house.

According to the Times, the city's planning commission is now researching how to take action against murals and art on private buildings in residential neighborhoods.

"Clearly, they would be acting with the intention of suppressing this individual's specific mural and viewpoint," says Erica Smith, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that is in the midst of fighting another similar legal battle—this one against a North Dakota city that wants to paint over a mural on the back wall of a bar.

"That is a serious constitutional problem," Smith tells Reason. "They would be just asking to get sued."

CORRECTION: This piece originally identified the location of the I.J. mural lawsuit as being in Virginia. It is challenging a law in Mandan, North Dakota.

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  1. I know I was frightened when I saw the picture. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be in person. *shudders*

  2. This is “bullying”? What sort of protected hothouse were these people raised in?

    1. That’s what I ask every time I attend a homeowners association meeting.

      The problem here is that the wilting flowers think they are in an HSA.

      1. Until you can afford to move to a free country, keep attending the HOA meetings. Run for a seat on the board. Change the rules to allow more and more freedoms.

        aux barricades!

        1. That never works.

          Once you get elected you turn into one of them. Once elected you realize that you have power – and there’s tons of stuff that annoy you and *must* be annoying other people and that you could use this power for good!

          Starts with just a few little things. Then it progresses as you get comfortable using that power – for good! Until the next thing you know, you’re up until one in the morning signing execution lists.

          1. Actually, I did what I suggested. And got the regulations cut in half.
            I simply took a copy of Robert’s rules of order to each meeting, as their corporation required following those, and stopped most of the straight out bullying in it’s tracks. By forcing a lot more openness, I got the rest of the residents to start showing up for meetings, and observing how the bullies worked. Next election turnout was up, and some real humans got elected, and it got easier and easier.

            1. I simply took a copy of Robert’s rules of order to each meeting, as their corporation required following those, and stopped most of the straight out bullying in it’s tracks.

              My wife did something similar with the local PTA. It was rough for a while after the bullies defected, but eventually a functional organization emerged.

              Robert’s Rules of Order are an underappreciated element of civilized society.

            2. Robert’s Rules of Order is an excellent weapon for good or evil. Those who know how to wield it can control the organization.

          2. that’s a pretty fair sized step you skipped there….

            1. “”… after neighbors complained about illegal short term rentals at the property and the city fined the homeowners $4000.”

              ‘Snitches get stitches’ would be bullying (and well deserved),but a painting?

              Unless, the zipper…hmmm.

        2. Unless your HOA is like mine which meets at 1 PM on a Tuesday because everyone on the current board is retired and the rest of us who work have to take a vacation day every month to attend. Without getting half of the other owners to attend you can’t even change the meeting time and as rentals make up almost 70% and owners who live elsewhere that isn’t going to happen.

    2. The one progressives built?

  3. Tittie Twisters, Charlie Horses, Wedges and Swirlies are all recognized bullying tactics*; painting a house not so much.

    *not exclusively, sometimes these may just be just good old fashion rough housing.

    1. Don’t forget the dreaded Rear Admiral

  4. Susan Wieland is a big bully. The only bully in the story, other than the city council that outlawed short term rentals.

  5. How would this “bullying” precedent be applied to the LGBT house across from the Westboro Baptist Church?

    1. That’s different.
      Because.

  6. And people wonder why I say government is the problem.

    What they seem to want to pretend to ignore is that the mere existence of police powers is what enables bullies like Susan Wieland; absent a government which *can* harass people, control freaks like her would have to grin and bear it, she’d probably end up with lower blood pressure, and everybody would have more time to mind their own business.

  7. targetting

    You don’t even have spell check turned on?

  8. “And people wonder why I say government is the problem.”
    I don’t “wonder” at all.

  9. >>>not doing enough to protect residents from the house’s silly faces.

    dude c’mon.

  10. The authoritarian way is to take words that have meaning (bully, racist, tolerance) and expand those meanings to cover anything they oppose.

  11. “And we really feel it is our city’s responsibility to have these regulations in place because people can do anything,”

    OH, THE FUCKING HUMANITY!!!!!

    1. Isn’t fucking humanity the usual aim of power/control freaks?

  12. “‘A brightly painted Los Angeles house featuring two large emoji symbols is a form of “bullying,”‘

    The horror! The horror!

  13. I just used Google Street View to ‘walk’ all over this neighborhood. Teal, pink, yellow, and green houses everywhere. I did not find the emoji house, but I can say for sure it would not look out of place there.

    1. Greg Dunn in Austin let his 12-year-old daughter pick the colors: purple, green and orange! This about a mile north of the U. of Texas. By the time she finished college, bright colors had spread concentrically outwards on houses in all directions.

  14. What would Susan Wieland do if a crowd the size of the one outside Mitch McConnell’s house showed up and started chanting and calling her a bully and a racists and a hater? Any chance at all she would figure out what is NOT bullying?

  15. Knowing California politicians as I do, I’m sure they will pass a law that feelings are more important than free speech.
    After all, the First Amendment is racist.

  16. Bullying was when wizened white terror bullies whined to the San Francisco bureaucrats to force the Jeferson Airplane to paint their dilapidated house. They painted it black.

  17. Sorry, I have to nit-pick. The town in Florida is Mount Dora, not Mount Doral.

  18. Are you kidding?

    Look at that. Look at it…it is something.

    It is Art. I really think it is. They took a drab nothing canvas and created something special.

    Therefore cannot be adjudicated nor prohibited. If it were would be a travesty.

  19. Next saying “have a nice day” will be considered as triggering to people having a bad day.

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