Property Rights

Judge Halts Indiana Town's Cruel Attempt to Fine Residents Out of their Properties

Property owners were ordered to pay thousands for violations unless they agreed to sell to a redeveloper.

|

Pleasant Ridge
Institute for Justice

A judge in Indiana has stopped a city's nasty plot to make people sell their homes to a redeveloper or else face thousands of dollars of rapidly accumulating fines.

In Charlestown, Indiana, a community north of Louisville with a population of less than 8,000, the mayor and other city leaders have been trying to transfer ownership of private plots of land in the low-income neighborhood of Pleasant Ridge to a developer. This developer would then raze all the properties and build an entirely new neighborhood.

Charlestown did not take advantage of Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court decision that allows the government to transfer property to a private developer via eminent domain. That would have required the city to pay the property's current owners.

Instead, the city targeted Pleasant Ridge with ruthless code enforcement. Property owners were cited and fined hundreds of dollars for every individual violation. Unlike the usual practice in code enforcement, the owners were not given any grace period to correct the problems before the fines were levied: They were levied immediately and compounded daily until the problems were fixed. And even when the violations were fixed, the owners had to pay the fines. The only relief offered to them came if they agreed to sell their properties to the developer.

Once the developer bought and boarded up the homes, by contrast, the city refrained from citing it for code violations. Neighbors complained that the company's properties were overgrown and full of garbage and weeds, creating a public health risk. But the law wasn't being used to target public health risks; it was being used to target people who wouldn't sell.

In February, the libertarian attorneys of the Institute for Justice stepped in, representing several landowners and a neighborhood association. Yesterday, a circuit judge in Scott County sided with the institute and its clients. Judge Jason Mount ruled that Charlestown had violated its own code enforcement regulations in order to target Pleasant Ridge. He has ordered the city to give property owners the opportunity to appeal citations and a grace period to actually fix problems before the city is permitted to start levying fines.

In a release, Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Anthony Sanders took note of the victory and the judge's acknowledgment of the unfair enforcement:

Today's ruling unmasks the City of Charlestown's and developer John Neace's actions for what they are: a naked land grab, taking from the poor to give to the rich. With this injunction in place, the city either must force Mr. Neace's company to pay several million dollars in fines or waive the fines it has illegally and unconstitutionally issued against the residents of Pleasant Ridge.

That's two wins in less than a week for the lawyers at the Institute for Justice. That's good news for private property rights.

Read more about the case here.

NEXT: Supreme Court Allows Trump's Travel Ban to Go Into Full Effect

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Has the mayor and council been tarred and feathered and run out of town?

    1. I think the turning point, for this country, came when it became unacceptable to run politicians out of town on a rail.

      1. TRUTH! People like this should be physically run out of town, or worse. Such scum.

  2. Unlike the usual practice in code enforcement, the owners were not given any grace period to correct the problems before the fines were levied: They were levied immediately and compounded daily until the problems were fixed. And even when the violations were fixed, the owners had to pay the fines. The only relief offered to them came if they agreed to sell their properties to the developer.

    This is the kind of shit where firearms start to get fondled.

    1. I’m fondling my “firearm” as we speak.

      1. Be careful, it has a hair trigger

        1. “Hair Trigger” was my nickname when I entered puberty.

    2. This is the kind of shit where firearms start to get fondled.

      If Hollywood has taught me anything a drifter is going to ride into town, murder everyone on the city counsel and burn the developer’s property to the ground and leave him penniless, maybe dead.

    3. not one of those crooked town politicians were charged with a crime after they attempted to steal land

      1. Are those Libertarian lawyers also plotting to charge those politicians and their developer cronies with Abuse of Office, Conspiracy to Defraud, or any similar crimes? Are they at least planning a big juicy lawsuit?

  3. She grew up in an Indiana town,
    Had a good lookin’ momma who never was around.
    But she grew up tall and she grew up right
    With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night.

    Well, she moved down here at the age of eighteen.
    She blew the boys away, it was more than they’d seen.
    I was introduced and we both started groovin’.
    She said, “I dig you baby but I got to keep movin’…on, keep movin’ on.”

    Last dance with Mary Jane,
    One more time to kill the pain.
    I feel summer creepin’ in and I’m
    Tired of this town again. . . .

  4. This doesn’t seem to offer any remedy for those homeowners who were already bent over by the corrupt city officials. They don’t get their money or homes back.

    Plus it seems like a developer with more money than the homeowners could conceivably fix all violations on the properties they already seized or even pay the fines. So long as the city is citing Neace’s homes they can cite the homeowners.

    1. Hollow win, for sure. I’m sure additional actions will follow.

      1. /sarcasm

  5. In Charlestown, Indiana, a community north of Louisville with a population of less than 8,000, the mayor and other city leaders have been trying to transfer ownership of private plots of land in the low-income neighborhood of Pleasant Ridge to a developer.

    Awesome that this the *exact* plot of every fictitious evil corporashun since the invention of fictitious evil corporashuns? It seems like everyone from Bo and Luke Duke to The Goonies and Steven Seagal has fought countless evil corporations, buying up land in order to kick poor homeowners off of it. The only difference here is the city leaders are willingly going to bat in favor of the evil corporashun.

  6. A judge in Indiana has stopped a city’s nasty plot to make people sell their homes to a redeveloper or else face thousands of dollars of rapidly accumulating fines.

    Yeah, that’s blatantly unconstitutional.

  7. It’s not a coincidence that a lot of these stories come out of Indiana. The more I grow to know that state, the more I loathe them. The company I work for has branches there, and they are by and large the worst of our area’s that I have to deal with. Stories like these really fail to surprise me.


    1. He has ordered the city to give property owners the opportunity to appeal citations and a grace period to actually fix problems before the city is permitted to start levying fines.

      Or, in other words, they can still fuck these people over they just can’t be as obvious and direct about it.

      1. A lot of the middle states complain about being ignored by the coasts, but my guess is that a lot of stuff being ignored is pretty horrible. Might be more of a boon for them than they realize.

  8. He has ordered the city to give property owners the opportunity to appeal citations and a grace period to actually fix problems before the city is permitted to start levying fines.

    It’s still bullshit. If it’s proven (by court standards) that the city intentionally ran people out of their homes, they should be forced to give the homes back to the previous owners and pay for all necessary repairs.

    1. City councilors personally mowing lawns and cleaning gutters.

    2. Yep. Did I hear a wood chipper starting?

  9. Is this the developers company? http://neaceventures.com/about/

  10. This is very scary stuff.
    This is what it was like in Venezuela under Chavez.
    One likes to believe it could never happen in America, but that seems more fanciful every year.

  11. The power to fine is the power to destroy.

  12. I’m more concerned that the Mayor and City council are still free persons despite the clear evidence of corruption. Why have they not been arrested yet?

  13. I love IJ. Cities are often filled with petty despots and people who couldn’t get a real job.
    My city wanted to pass a new property maintenance ordinance. The old one said, “If you X, Y, Z, AND it substantially reduces property values” and was about 2 paragraphs long.

    The proposed replacement cut and pasted together by the City Attorney said, “If you A, B, C, D, …X, Y, or Z, OR substantially reduce property values…” and was about 15 pages long. In her zeal to draft an ordinance that the code enforcemnt officer could never lose, the City Attorney actually banned anything that attracts vermin (defined elsewhere to include insects) so that growing roses was a technical violation. “Leaves, rotting materials, and celulose debris” was banned outright (including one assumes, compost, mulch, and decorative bark). Even “personal property” was not to be visible from the public right of way (think garden hoses, vehicles, welcome mats, window curtains, clothing). All, because it lost the distinction between “and” and “or” in the ordinance. It was a code enforcement despot’s dream ordinance making everything a violation. It was so poorly drafted it took me a dozen visits to City Council meetings to point out the problems in three minute increments, until the City Attorney finally took it back to the drawing board.
    Private property needs defenders!

  14. WOW. This is one of the most blatant abuses of power I’ve seen in awhile. They weren’t even trying to hide it! These guys need to have criminal charges filed against them, this kind of shit cannot be allowed to stand.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.