WILLMAR -- By this weekend, kids caught draping trees with toilet paper against the wishes of the homeowner could be cited with a petty misdemeanor and face up to a $300 fine.
The citation would also apply to other materials typically found in the backseat arsenal of a teen participating in homecoming pranks: Shaving cream, eggs, paint, chocolate syrup or any other kind of liquid, foam, food or solid material.
Following a public hearing Tuesday, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to the county's nuisance ordinance to give the Sheriff's Department a tool to use when the department receives complaints during homecoming season.
Once the amended ordinance is published in the West Central Tribune on Friday, it will go into effect. It will be enforced only in rural areas. Municipalities like Willmar would have to adopt their own ordinance.
"This is to deal with the growing problem of toilet papering and littering as part of homecoming activities," said County Attorney Boyd Beccue.
The amendment takes the nuisance ordinance and links trespassing with littering.
Someone who trespasses for the purpose of depositing litter of any kind, without the consent of the homeowner, could be charged under the ordinance.
"There is no intent of ruining the fun of homecoming," Beccue said.
Most homeowners don't care if their home is targeted with "innocuous" pranks. "I laughed and had my kids pick up the toilet paper," said Beccue, recalling years when his children were in school and the family woke up to a yard full of toilet paper.
But for people who "don't want to participate" and decide to call the Sheriff's Department, law enforcement will now have a legal tool to use.
Last year, Scott Wagar, a rural Willmar homeowner who said he'd been targeted for years by high school vandals during homecoming week, doused kids with fox urine shot from a squirt gun as the teens attempted to get to his property. Wagar faced charges in connection with the incident, but all charges were later dismissed.
The case drew national attention, with most people siding with Wagar as a wronged homeowner without any rights to defend himself.
In explaining the need for a local ordinance to deal with homecoming complaints, Beccue said the state's trespassing law does not give homeowners or law enforcement an adequate tool.
Entering gravel mines, construction sites and hunting land that's posted with a no trespassing sign is a violation.
But that's not the same for homeowners. "Just entering a premises is not a crime," said Beccue. Under state law, a person isn't trespassing unless he has been asked to leave -- and then does not.
With homecoming situations, the homeowner will come out "and everybody runs away," he said.
Chairman Dennis Peterson said people he's talked to think the amendment to the ordinance is "a good idea" and that it will be useful.