18 Things Most People Think Are Illegal—But They’re Not

We’re not all lawyers with a comprehensive knowledge of the written law, so it’s not surprising that sometimes public opinion on what is and isn’t legal isn’t quite right. Social perceptions, the news, and other media may be responsible. Here are 18 things many people believe are prohibited by law but are perfectly legal in most U.S. states.

Sleeping in Your Car

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The Sleep Foundation says, “Although there is no federal law against sleeping in a vehicle,… laws about sleeping legally in your car vary across states, counties, and cities.” Some cities prohibit overnight parking in certain public places, but there are some where you can sleep at welcome centers, truck stops, and designated resting areas.

Using a Fake Name Online

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While some online platforms have terms of service requiring users to provide accurate information, there is generally no federal law against using a pseudonym online—they’re just technically permitted by law to cancel your account. The U.S. Department of Justice states it’s only illegal if you use your alias to commit a crime, like fraud or identity theft.

Parking on the Wrong Side of the Street

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So long as it’s a two-way street and there are no specific parking restrictions, it’s legal to parallel park on the opposite side of the street in your direction of travel. Just take extra care when pulling in and out, as you’ll have to negotiate two lanes of traffic instead of just one.

Sharing Your Netflix Password

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As much as Netflix would like you to believe this, sharing your account password isn’t a criminal offense. Lexology says that it goes against the terms of service and, technically, you could have your Netflix account canceled if the company found out, but there’s no chance of a visit from the police!

Recording Phone Calls

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This one is tricky because the specific legalities vary from state to state. In some states, you need the permission of only one participant (that could be you), while in other states, both callers must agree to the recording for it to be a legal action. So, always check local laws before recording a phone call without the other person’s permission.

Leaving Your Car Running

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This is another act that’s illegal in some states but not others. It isn’t advisable due to the increased risk of theft and the unnecessary pollution your car will kick out while idling. Still, it isn’t technically illegal in most places, so long as you’re only away for a short time and the car is left in a safe spot, but it may invalidate your insurance if your car is stolen.

Eating Fallen Fruit

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FindLaw asserts that eating fruit from private trees is illegal if you are trespassing or picking fruit directly from the branch, but fruit that has fallen into a public space is ripe for the taking! Picking fruit is only permitted in certain areas, from trees growing on public property or on your own land (of course!). Just make sure you wash all fruit thoroughly before consuming it.

Walking Barefoot in Public

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Walking barefoot in public spaces is generally legal in most states, as long as you’re not violating health codes or trespassing on private property. So, if you fancy walking without shoes along the sidewalk or through a park, go for it! Just be mindful of potential hazards underfoot, like sharp trash, broken glass, or hot surfaces.

Camping on Public Land

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While not all public land allows camping, there are numerous designated camping areas managed by federal and state agencies where camping is permitted free of charge, although you may require a permit. Just ensure you adhere to the specific regulations for each location and remain respectful of other campers.

Renting Out Your Home on Airbnb

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Short-term rentals through platforms like Airbnb are generally legal in most states, but regulations can vary. If you want to rent out your entire residence or a single room, you must be the owner or legally entitled to do so (subletting without written consent is illegal). Always check local laws first and follow any safety codes and tax requirements.

Haggling at Stores

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Just because large commercial shops are unresponsive to haggling doesn’t mean offering less than the price tag states is illegal. While not as common in the U.S. as elsewhere, haggling is legal in most retail stores, especially smaller, independent shops or flea markets where the proprietor is more likely to serve you and have the authority to make discounts.

Homebrewing Beer or Wine

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The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that “the beer produced per household may not exceed 200 gallons per calendar year if there are two or more adults residing in the household, or 100 gallons per calendar year if there is only one adult residing in the household.” So long as you stick to these limits, are of legal drinking age, and don’t sell your product illegally, personal consumption of homebrew is entirely legal.

Collecting Rainwater

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Some states have restrictions on the amount of rainwater you can harvest or the methods you can use, but it’s generally legal to collect rainwater for personal use in most parts of the U.S. Local regulations may dictate the size and type of container you can use, so it’s always best to check before setting up a rainwater harvesting system.

Taking Photos or Videos in Public Places

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Don’t worry about capturing strangers in your personal videos and photos, as it’s perfectly legal to do so without their permission, so long as you’re both in a public place and aren’t invading their privacy. Obviously, trespassing is a no-no, and there might be restrictions on photography in sensitive locations like government buildings or courthouses.

Selling Homemade Crafts or Baked Goods

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Selling your personal creations is generally allowed, although you should always check the specific regulations in your state in case you require a permit or hygiene certificate. High-risk foods like uncooked cheesecake and fish dishes may be restricted, but low-risk items like cakes, sweets, and fruit pies are normally sellable.

Leaving Your Dog in a Car

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In most states, briefly leaving your dog unattended in a parked car is not inherently illegal. However, local laws may demand they be in the shade or have the windows cracked, particularly in hot climates. Despite this, we recommend taking your pet with you or leaving them at home unless you are only away for a few moments.

Reselling Event Tickets

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While some event organizers might have restrictions on reselling tickets purchased through their platform, the general act of reselling tickets you’ve already purchased isn’t illegal in most states. However, there may be restrictions on the amount of mark-up you can place on the price and the quantity of tickets you can resell.

Blowing Bubbles in Public

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In rare cases, there may be a specific public ordinance prohibiting blowing bubbles in public spaces, but it’s generally legal in most states. It’s good to know that this simple, cheap, and nostalgic activity can be enjoyed anywhere; just take care not to annoy others and don’t burst a lot of bubbles on or around uncovered food and drinks.

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