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New at Reason: Virginia Postrel on building codes.

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  1. Please don’t confuse “Building Codes” with “community design/aesthetic zoning” codes.

    For the most part (depending on localities there can be some abuse) the purpose of a building code is to assure the safe construction and use of strucures to protect public health and safety.

    Virgina’s article is not about building codes but rather the more pernicious area of aesthetic control usually accomplished under a zoning ordinance.

  2. One aspect I didn’t notice Ms. Postrel address in depth was the master-planned developers’ selling of restrictive codes as a way to protect “property values” – if everybody’s house looks the same, then the “value” of your house will remain constant and hopefully will go up. If one person paints their trim purple, then buyers will be scared off, blah, blah, blah.

    Homes in master planned communities are pitched as good investment vehicles. I knew one yuppie (lawyer, female, single) who bought a house for X and fully expected to sell it for Y in five years so she then could move up to a house worth Z (she was one of those person who actually master plans his/her life). I asked her what guarantee she had that the house would increase to Y, and maybe not stay at X or even slip back to W or, shudders, V. Why, she said, the developer had assured her that the “protective covenants” would maintain her property value.

    We have sold two houses in the past 15 years and taken losses on both – due to overall shitty conditions in the economy at the time of sale and not because a guy down the street had purple trim.

  3. For a nation that likes to talk about individual rights and freedoms, there seem to be an awful lot of these types of developments going up. Ugh! I’m from north of the 49th, but if somebody told me I couldn’t paint my house orange and purple pinstripes (if I desired), I’d tell him to fuck off, after I removed my paint-roller from his ass. On second thought, the hell with the roller. Who dreams this conformist shit up, anyway?

  4. Joe, sure seems like your 11:59 post undercuts your 11:57 post! Why should someone be FORCED to do something to make life “nicer” for someone else?

    Regarding state versus contractual regs, Julian Sanchez wrote about the difference on his blog a while back, and while it was a rather dense analysis, I think it comes down to private contracts are simply a more efficient and direct means of determining people’s preferences. I do wonder though, with whom are you contracting when you buy a covenant controlled property from someone other than the developer? To restrict a seller from removing the covenant stipulations from the deed would seem to require some sort of third party involvement that I don’t know would fit into my own idea of what contracts are all about.

  5. Note that just because one believes that people have a right to do what they wish with private property– including set up restrictive housing associations– that doesn’t mean one must approve of everything people choose to do with it.

    Libertarians, at least most of those I know, think of liberty as necessary, not sufficient, for achieving the good. Culture is an important thing too. I find the widespread preference for conformity distressing, even though I respect people’s right to form associations that enforce conformity; and that doesn’t make me any less libertarian.

    From a libertarian point of view, this issue parallels the issue of racial discrimination: you can believe private companies have every right to discriminate on the basis of race, while still believing it’s a really nasty thing for them to do.

  6. Well said, Nicholas. The only unresolved issue to my mind is under what conditions the law (and therefore the state) can be invoked to enforce the decisions of said “association.”

  7. fyodor,

    Re: undercutting. Are you referring to the part where I specifically took back what I wrote, or something else?

    “Why should somebody be forced to do something to make life “nicer” for someone else?” Well, it depends on the “something,” doesn’t it?

  8. I’m a pretty hard-core lib, but years ago I had an experience that makes me pause. I was looking at town houses and found one that was within my price range. However, when I visited I saw that a house next door seemed to be owned by the Adams family. The grass had to up to the knee. The seller was obviously embarassed, and mentioned that he tried several times to get the city to intervene. Needless to say, I passed it up, though I felt terribly for the guy. Any thoughts from the gallery?

  9. Joe,

    Re undercutting. Hmmm, not sure what I was getting at now, sorry ’bout that! 🙂

    As for depending on the something, no, I wouldn’t think so. I’d say forcing someone else to do something for someone else’s benefit is essentially slavery.

    Mr. Nice Guy,

    I’d say that’s the luck of the draw. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, as with any investment. As Nicholas points out, just because someone exercises their rights in ways you don’t approve doesn’t mean that they don’t have those rights. And as Kevin Carson points out, no one has an obligation to protect your investment.

  10. This question of regulating aeshtetics is when gummint intervention gets a little arbitrary and scary for my taste.

    I wonder what the founding fathers would have to say on this one. During revolution era, before “In God We Trust” became our official motto, and back when a penny had some actual value, pennies were engraved with “Mind Your Own Business”.

    What does the constitution have to say that could inform the burgeoning aesthetics gestapo?

  11. Fred, most of the aesthetic standards are being enforced by associations of private homeowners, not the government. They also own the roads and infrastructure. It’s a libertarian dream.

    Could it be that private property ownership and privatized government aren’t a panacea for universal freedom? Nah.

  12. Joe,

    I am actually a real estate developer myself and use covenants for control of the aesthetics of my projects. Somehow, it feels better to me to have the legal owner of the land figure out what to do with it.

    That said, I’ve noticed that generally folks don’t seem to want anyone telling them what to do when it comes to their own hom: government officials, developers, neighbors or anyone else.

    Though of course, most people want to dictate to their neighbors as soon as they ahve their own little piece of heavan just the way they want it. People (myself included I guess) are funny that way, eh?

  13. Tom from Texas,

    I’m a renter, so take my remarks for what they’re worth.

    But it seems to me that the primary purpose of buying a house is the actual use and enjoyment of the house as a dwelling space, and the resale value is secondary. Restricting somebody else’s enjoyment of their own home, because it makes the value of YOUR investment go up, strikes me as perverse.

    Now, if someone’s enjoyment of their own home actually involves loud noises, emission of a stench, or attracting rats, that’s a different matter. But the color you paint your house, or your building materials, or whether you have a garden in your front yard, or a solar power set-up, or even have a few chickens in a fenced yard or rabbit does in cages, is none of my business.

    What’s next? Regulating other people’s behavior to keep a stock portfolio from going down?

  14. BTW, passing aesthetic codes to prevent neighborhood decline is like buying powdered makeup to prevent burn scars. If you’re not being burned, you don’t need them. If you are, the makeup’s not going to help. Neighborhoods don’t decline because of people painting their house a certain color. They decline because people stop painting their house at all.

    Now, minimum maintenance standards…

  15. Actually, I’m going to amend that last post. Neighborhoods don’t decline because people stop painting their houses. People stop painting their houses because the neighborhood is declining, for larger reasons than what the houses look like. Minimum maintenance standards don’t prevent the economic decline of neighborhoods, they just make neighborhoods that are declining nicer places for the poor people who live there.

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  17. I’d just LOVE to say this is a lovely thread. we have bought in a secure, exclusive gated community and we couldn’t be any happier with our decision. Yes the houses are of the same architectural style, but the greenery and landscaping and attention to detail is beautiful. I truly do believe gated communities are the way forward

    Sally

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