What’s All This Then?

by Daniel Schere

Thomas Hobbes once said, “It is not wisdom but authority that makes a law.” The 17th century philosopher might have been speaking at a time when governments were being created, but in 2015 there are laws on the books that show signs of age in places like Winston-Salem. Who knew that it was unlawful to keep pigs within the corporate limits of the city, or that in matters dealing with cable installation, the city defines a person as “any corporation, partnership, proprietorship, individual, organization, company, governmental entity or any natural person.” Most cities and states around the country have their share of unusual or outdated laws. You might be aware that there is a North Carolina statute that forbids singing off-key. Winston-Salem’s current city code was adopted on January 21, 1997, but several revisions have occurred in the years since. There are also a number of clauses that were left in from a 1975 code. Here are a few things in Winston-Salem that most people had no idea were illegal and a few that are legal.Animal Care

Most laws governing animals in Winston-Salem deal with sanitation concerns as well as fencing requirements for horses and mules. There are a few restrictions on animals that cannot occupy turf. In addition to it being illegal to keep pigs within the city limits, it is also illegal to keep “one or more flocks of fowl,” within one mile of the city limits if they crow or cackle for at least 15 minutes. The standard used to determine whether they are making too much noise is if the crowing is done in “such a manner as to result in serious annoyance to neighboring residents and as to interfere with the reasonable use and enjoyment of the premises occupied by such residents shall be guilty of maintaining a nuisance.” The same two criteria apply for dogs. These can be found in Chapter 6, Sections 8 and 9 of the code. However the city does allow ponies to be kept within the corporate limits as long as it is not within 50 feet of a building or within 20 feet of a property line. A pony also must be “14’½ hands or less at the withers” (roughly five feet “at the withers” or the ridge between the shoulder blades) to meet the law’s definition. City attorney Angela Carmon said she thinks this law is still relevant because it is common for some people to keep pot-bellied pigs as pets.

“This came up about five to ten years ago or so because I remember I ended up learning more than I wanted to know about pot-bellied pigs at that time,” she said.

Carmon said there have been no pig cases within the last two to three years, but the law is still necessary to enforce.

Winston-Salem’s pig ban is the only one of its kind across major cities in the state. Neither Greensboro’s city code, nor Charlotte’s contains the word pig at all. Raleigh allows up to two pigs per non-residential unit.

Fire Code

The fire prevention section of the code gives very specific boundaries as to where the fire limits are. The vast majority of the rules are common sense, but a couple might make you scratch your head. Chapter 22 contains a clause in the part that spells out the duties of the fire prevention bureau, in which they are tasked with ensuring that residents do not start bonfires on public or private property without a permit. It goes on to state that “no person shall kindle or maintain any such fire which emits smoke or fumes in such quantity as to create a hazard or nuisance.” In addition to roasting a few marshmallows, you might want to think twice before you toss that cigarette out the window. It’s illegal “to throw down or drop any lighted match, cigar, cigarette or other burning object,” if it’s in or near combustible material. The ordinance is intended minimize the risk of uncontrolled burning due to negligence.

Recreational Activities

The most interesting part of the code is Chapter 38, which is entitled “Miscellaneous Offenses and Provisions.” It lays out every possible restriction you could think of on things people do for fun. Some of the laws show their age, such as the one that says it is illegal to show a drive-in movie between the hours of 1:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. at an outdoor facility or between 2:30 am and 8 am during daylight savings time. Perhaps if the theaters make a comeback, owners will need to take note. Another law prohibits any masseur or masseuse from giving a massage to someone of the opposite sex unless a licensed physician gives his or her approval, and even if it is legal they are limited to giving 10 massages. It also defines a masseur or masseuse as “a person who applies manual or mechanical massage or similar treatment to the human trunk or limbs.” Who knew such a relaxing activity had so many regulations associated with it? Carmon said she was not sure how the law originated but emphasized that it is only exists to regulate medical professionals who give massages and not the general public.

“It’s not to deal with those that occur in the home that occur between husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend,” she said. “That kind of thing. It’s meant to deal with folks that are engaged in that profession.”

Carmon added that it is not uncommon for municipalities to include a law about massages, though not all of them address opposite sex ones. Greensboro’s statute lays out in detail the criteria “bodywork therapists” must meet in order to legally operate within the city limits, as does Raleigh’s code. But Charlotte’s city code contains an ordinance that bans opposite-sex massages outright from any “massagist.”

Further down, you will find an ordinance that limits residents to two garage sales or yard sales per year and neither can last longer than seven days. It also states that items sold at yard sales may only be household items and not products that were already purchased.


This part of Chapter 38 deals mostly with restrictions on the use and possession of guns. It bans guns from recreational facilities but limits the definition of these areas to swimming pools, athletic fields and other facilities used for athletic events. It specifically excludes greenways that are used strictly for walking and biking. This section also spells out the various law enforcement officers that can use firearms and gives state and federal wildlife officers the right to use a shotgun 800 feet from Smith-Reynolds Airport in order to “remove wildlife hazards.” Carmon said this was drafted and enacted by council to allow wildlife personnel to use firearms within the city limits to combat issues with deer near the airport. She said the discussion resurfaced a few years back when the city saw an influx of coyotes.

Among the firearms banned in public places are shotguns, BB guns and slingshots. This part of the code also bans people from throwing rocks, metal or snowballs at motor vehicles. It also prohibits throwing these items at people “if the intention of the thrower is to strike such vehicle or pedestrian and if such intention reasonably appears from the act of throwing.” Under this law, snowball fights would technically be illegal since snowballs are classified as “hard missiles.” Snowballs are also categorized as missiles in Raleigh’s city code, but they are not referred to in Greensboro’s or Charlotte’s.


Drive-in theaters make yet another appearance in Chapter 46, which deals with noise restrictions. Section 34 forbids anyone at a drive-in theater in a residential district from making “sounds for entertainment” that can be heard from at least 1000 feet away. There are also limits of the volume at which ice cream trucks may blast music. According to Section 35, the music cannot be audible from more than 600 feet away, it can only be played when the truck is in motion and the equipment cannot be used after 9 p.m. Although all of the other city codes have similar provisions that address noise and sound amplification, none specifically spell out the restrictions on ice cream trucks. Carmon said in all likelihood the ordinance was born out of incidents when the alarm on the ice cream truck became a nuisance to neighbors.

“These are the kinds of ordinances that generally come about because citizens are complaining,” she said.


It is not exactly clear how old some of the codes are due to constant updates over the years. Carmon explained that during the 1997 recodification, most of the dates on various ordinances were from 1975, though in reality some were not that old. The code has gone through several updates since then, including some this past fall, like the amendments to the “vehicles for hire” portion that allowed golf carts to operate within certain parts of downtown Winston-Salem. The amendment was adopted Oct. 27 and took effect Jan. 1 “” something which is reflected in the code.

Carmon and City Manager Lee Garrity agree that not all of the above mentioned laws are outdated or irrelevant. But there are clearly some that were written long ago, when city officials had to address every possibility. Winston-Salem is not alone. Here are several other odd laws from locations throughout the state. Some might no longer be on the books.

North Carolina state law maintains that one cannot participate on more than two bingo sessions per week, no two sessions can be held within 48 hours of each other and no building can accommodate more than two sessions during one week. Exceptions are made for fairs and festivals.

State law also allows a marriage to be annulled on the grounds that one of the partners is physical unable to engage in sexual activity. This is one of five ways to annul a marriage with the others being bigamy, an underage partner, a nonconsensual partner or a mistaken belief of pregnancy.

Couples who register at a hotel as married are considered legally married by the hotel because state law prohibits pretend marriages. On top of that, hotels are required to have two beds in each room that are two feet apart, and couples cannot make love in the space between the beds.

It is illegal to sing off-key, and if you do it in Nags Head for more than 90 seconds, you will be fined.

Sneezing on the street in Asheville is illegal.

It is illegal for cats and dogs to fight each other in Barber.

An 1886 state law forbids residents from digging ginseng on someone else’s property between April 1 and Sept. 1 carries a $10 fine per day if the purpose is to replant the ginseng.

An 1874 law prohibits the sale of cotton at night and slaps offenders with a fine of $500 or a possible incarceration period of six months. It is also illegal to carry unbaled cotton, or small amounts of cotton during these hours.

The disruption of a religious assembly by any “stallion or jack” is an illegal act that can carry a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail.

If you happen to have a Marl bed, an 1886 state law requires citizens to enclose it with a fence. The penalty is a $50 fine or up to 30 days in jail. !