Curtailing Condemnations

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The Pennsylvania Senate has unanimously passed the Property Rights Protection Act, which Institute for Justice attorney Dana Berliner calls "the most comprehensive [eminent domain] reform bill in the country." It would forbid takings for economic development and tighten the state's loose definition of "blight," albeit with exceptions for already designated areas in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (exceptions that expire in seven years). Current law allows condemnation of property considered "economically or socially undesirable." The state House of Representatives passed a similar reform bill last month and is expected to approve the new version.

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  1. Strengthening property rights is a good thing. But it still serves as a reminder that, nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation, is not any kind of constitutionally protected right or anything.

    hooray… [sigh]

  2. Are there any legitimate grounds by which to differentiate between taking blighted property and taking other property?

    Between taking an owner-occupied house and taking a vacant lot owned by a real estate fund?

    Between taking a commercial building that an absentee-owner has neglected, and taking a similar building that the owner/occupant works in every day and keeps up?

  3. Hooray for PA!! 49 to go… Did any of you catch Sean Hannity interveiwing the Mayor of Riviera Beach FL the other night? I’m no Hannifan, but it was priceless!! The mayor just kept repeating this canned mantra about the poor town “dying” if something wasn’t done …to make it more attractive to rich folk! The funniest thing is this guy is A-A and the neigborhood that stands to lose the most is primarily minority owned! Where is the indignance from the “minority leadership” decrying the obvious abuse of the minorities inability to afford to fight this? I am also surprised to see nothing on IJ’s website about this case!

  4. “But it still serves as a reminder that, nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation, is not any kind of constitutionally protected right or anything.”

    Then maybe it is time to put some teeth into Constitutional protection of property from the abuse of government.

    We the people therefore ask that the Constitution of the United States be amended to include the following language:

    The right to ownership of property being the cornerstone of liberty, no government, or agency thereof, within these United States shall have the authority to take property from any person, corporation, or organization through exercise of eminent domain for other than a public use without just compensation.

    Public use shall be understood to be property the government owns or retains the paramount interest in, and the public has a legal right to use. Public use shall be understood to include property the government owns and maintains as a secure facility. Public use shall not be construed to include economic development or increased tax revenue. Public use of such property shall be maintained for a period of not less than 25 years.

    Just compensation shall be the higher of twice the average of the price paid for similar property in the preceding six months, or twice the average of the previous 10 recorded similar property transactions. Compensation paid shall be exempt from taxation in any form by any government within these United States.

    Sign the petition.

  5. Well, it looks like the “Anti-Kelo backlash” is lashing back rather slowly…

  6. I’m graduating college in New Jersey and deciding were to settle. This definitely makes Pennsylvania look more attractive.

  7. I don’t know of anyone who supported Kelo. I watched a cable news broadcast shortly thereafter where they had a debate segment where they debated whether it was the sort of horrible decision that happens when you have liberals in charge or the sort of horrible decision that happens when you have conservatives in charge.

    But it’s true that for being a decision that was almost unanimously opposed it disappeared quickly. People just don’t care. That’s why most of the political ideas libertarians push for never get anywhere. If it’s not getting hammered into their heads at least once a week by their church or their union they just can’t be bothered.

    For 90% of the country, political parties are largely irrelevant. There are unions and there are churches. If, in an area, the union holds more influence than the church, the majority will vote Democrat. If, in another area, the church holds more control than the unions, the majority will vote Republican.

    Unions and churches don’t care about the Kelo ruling, so it isn’t an issue.

  8. Dagny, that’s a little reductive. This isn’t the first law passed to limit emininent domain powers in the wake of Kelo – there have been quite a few reported here. This is just the most recent.

  9. Behind most government mischief is private interest. Look at most blight or economic development “takings,” you will find a private developer ready to take advantage of the condemned property.

  10. Are there any legitimate grounds by which to differentiate between taking blighted property and taking other property?

    Is “blighted” shorthand for disgusting, or in need of condemnation? Really, is there a widely accepted set of circumstances that define blight?

    Between taking an owner-occupied house and taking a vacant lot owned by a real estate fund?

    I say no.

    Between taking a commercial building that an absentee-owner has neglected, and taking a similar building that the owner/occupant works in every day and keeps up?

    Again I say no – because the landowner has the right to do either. I live in a condominium project, and some of the absentee owners do little to take care of their units; but they have no less rights in the property than I.

  11. Rich Ard,

    Definitions vary, but the general concept behind blight is creeping vacancy – an area has so much vacant property, land and buildings that the local real estate market enters a death spiral. Other owners abandon or neglect their property because it isn’t worth it to maintain it in a blighted area, their properties become blighted, property owners near them are faced with the same situation…often, this happens to districts within cities and regions that are economically stable or growing, and it is actually the physical condition of the blighted area, not a lack of economic activity in the region, that is prevented sufficient capital from flowing into those buildings.

    As for your last two statements, are you basically saying that taking the homes of the New Londoners wasn’t particularly bad, and that they were chosen not because they had “strong claims,” but because they were “strong clients,” in a PR sense?

  12. Hmm…I’ll leave the issue of blight for now, as its definition and legitimacy aren’t things I’ve really spent time one.

    As for your last two statements, are you basically saying that taking the homes of the New Londoners wasn’t particularly bad, and that they were chosen not because they had “strong claims,” but because they were “strong clients,” in a PR sense?

    I don’t know that I’d phrase it as you did, but I don’t see the taking of a house as intrinsically worse than taking an empty field – both are real property and with them come similar rights and responsibilities, and the theft of either is “bad”.

    What do you mean by “chosen”? I think you’re right that Suzanne Kelo got better press than Donald Trump would if instead of her house, it was his parking lot that was going to be taken. šŸ™‚

  13. And I hope this continues while I’m away, since I think this could be a good thread; y’all enjoy yourselves, I’m going to go get a vasectomy.

  14. I would say there’s a definite difference with repsect to government actions between vacant property and used property. Yes, taking the New Londoners homes was particularly bad, as the property was being used. It would be bad even if the property was actually used for a truly public purpose, but it was made significantly worse because the taking was the result of a backroom deal with a real estate developer, which was the crux of the issue.

    Vacancy is a different issue, but it’s tricky. There is the question about how much land someone is using, so if someone owns a 10 sq mi back yard some might consider part of that property vacant. Of course, this was certainly not the case in New London. There is also the question of whether property being held for speculative purposes is actually being used. There are also questions concerning the reasons for supposed vacany. Is development being help up by regulatory issues? Investment issues? Ownership quarrels? Just ’cause?

    99% of the time I’m inclined to side with the property owner. I would define vacany narrowly. If you need 10 miles of land that you bought for a back yard, then so be it. If you just want to let a lot sit tight until it’s worth a bunch, then fine. But there are certainly cases where property has been abandoned and can, even in the strictest sense, be considered vacant. Government intervention is such cases is a different matter than with used property, even if the used porperty is just a parking lot owned by a rich guy with silly hair.

    Of course, perhaps the more important question is exactly how the government should or can intervene.

  15. I’m going to go get a vasectomy.

    Don’t be gone all day, I need your help to move my piano.

  16. Now he’ll be able to move pianos all day long and never have to worry about getting someone pregnant.

  17. Alright PA. First the Dover thing and now this. We’re lookin up.

    Between taking a commercial building that an absentee-owner has neglected, and taking a similar building that the owner/occupant works in every day and keeps up?

    Unfortunately, not really in Pennsylvania, no. They declared a block of beautiful buildings with fully operating businesses here in Ardmore “blighted” because they wanted to build parking lots. Maybe the loose standard of “economically undesirable” is what allowed that to happen, and maybe that’s why PA is passing this law.

    I’m graduating college in New Jersey and deciding were to settle. This definitely makes Pennsylvania look more attractive.

    Don’t get too excited. You’re still only allowed to buy liquor from the Commonwealth. And have you seen the Eagles this year?

    You could always move to Pittsburgh and root for the Steelers, I guess, but.. don’t.

  18. We also have lax gun laws though, if you’re into that sort of thing. Too lax, I think, but to each his own. And we didn’t vote for Bush in either election.

  19. It looks like those giant pay raises the Penna. legislators gave themselves knocked some sense into them as far as public domain goes. Go figure.

  20. Are there any legitimate grounds by which to differentiate between taking blighted property and taking other property?

    Well, your definition of externality is probably different than mine. If the condition of your property puts your neighbors in physical danger and you refuse (or are unable) to fix it, then a taking may be justified. Otherwise, you either own the property or you don’t. Giving government the power to declare property “blighted” is just a variant of putting property rights up for a vote.

    Between taking an owner-occupied house and taking a vacant lot owned by a real estate fund?

    No.

    Between taking a commercial building that an absentee-owner has neglected, and taking a similar building that the owner/occupant works in every day and keeps up?

    No. A right isn’t contingent upon the government’s approval of the quality of your exercise of it.

  21. Wooo! Go Pennsylvania!

    My house is in Pittsburgh, so I wonder where the existing blight zones are. Time to call my city councilman!

    Pittsburgh isn’t so bad. I was worried when I moved here from DC, but I now live in an affordable and fun city.

  22. Behind most government mischief is private interest. Look at most blight or economic development “takings,” you will find a private developer ready to take advantage of the condemned property.

    Exactly, which is why eminent domain used by cities for ‘econonic takings’ are so fucking evil (pronounced ee-vill)

  23. A right isn’t contingent upon the government’s approval of the quality of your exercise of it.

    Nice turn of phrase – and Twba, I hope it’s only a console or you’re going to have to get someone else to help. Man, that smarts. šŸ™‚

  24. are you basically saying that taking the homes of the New Londoners wasn’t particularly bad

    That question kinda makes me think of an analogy. If someone gets arrested and jailed for criticizing the actions of his government, is that a “particularly bad” infringement of his freedom of speech? As opposed to doing the same to, let’s say, a pornographer? If property ownership as a right is tied to how the owner uses his property, can speech rights be tied to how the speaker uses his speech? Or if someone is influenced by someone’s speech to do something bad, is that the same kind of externality as blight? That said, I’m undecided on the absoluteness of absentee ownership. But when you, joe, play on our emotions to suggest that taking owner occupied property is more “bad,” and you do have a point, this is what occurs to me.

  25. REPEAL ENTIMATE DOMAIN REPEAL ENTIMATE DOMAIN

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