Seller beware: the new yard-sale rules

A consumer product safety law makes it illegal to sell recalled products, even at a yard sale.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, signed into law in 2008, makes it illegal to sell recalled products. That applies to goods sold at yard sales, as well as flea markets and websites. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is charged with enforcing the law, is urging consumers who buy and sell products at garage sales to research the goods and make sure they are safe.

The agency acknowledges that it does not have the resources to actually police yard sales. Its focus is on making sure that larger retailers and manufacturers comply with the rules. The agency, who has issued a handbook clarifying the rules for resellers, aims to set a standard that will be incorporated into communities of buyers and sellers.

Because of the recession, more sellers are trying to find some much-needed cash by selling their unwanted possessions. Listings on Craigslist for garage sales have increased 60 percent in the past year, and another resale site, TagSellIt has also seen a rising trend. The number of large-scale yard sales has actually declined as fewer people move in the weak housing market but those who monitor the resale industry say that more sellers are trying to get cash for smaller ticket items.

The sheer variety of products being recalled in a given year can make it hard to guess what products might be unsafe. Buyers and sellers who want to check for recalls can search on the Consumer Product Safety Commision’s website. The website offers searches by product type, company name, hazard and other categories. An online recall resources lists recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and five other federal agencies. It is also possible to sign up to receive recall alerts by email.

For those planning a yard sale this summer, there are safety concerns for used products ranging from play yards to bean-bag chairs, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s handbook for resellers. In children’s clothing, lead can be present in zippers, snaps and other metal or plastic details. Another category people may want to look out for is cribs. Drop-side models, which allow parents to lower one side of the crib to pick up their baby, are now banned from sale whether new or used.

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