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New Study Recommends Lawmakers Adopt Property Ownership Fairness Act

February 10, 2016

Air Force veteran Robert Landers wasn’t allowed to install a therapeutic hot tub in his back yard. Mike Goodman was forced to leave housing for university students unfinished and exposed to the elements during the summer monsoons. Glenn Odegard was given a business permit to rent out a historic home he painstakingly restored, only to have the permit taken away later. What do these people have in common? They are all victims of government attempts to regulate away their ability to use their own property. But they are the lucky ones. An Arizona law passed by voters 10 years ago has protected their rights.

Paul Turner, who was banned from building an apartment above his office, and Kent and Judith Wonders, who were forced to set aside 45 acres of their land without their consent, weren’t so lucky.Today the Goldwater Institute released a new study, The Property Ownership Fairness Act: Protecting Private Property Rights, calling on lawmakers to adopt laws that prevent private property rights from being whittled away by regulations and without compensation to the property owners. The study’s authors also released a book today that details the importance and state of property rights in America.

“The right to own private property is a cornerstone of freedom. In fact, the right to own property is mentioned in the U.S Constitution more than any other right. But, years of bad court decisions and government regulations have chipped away at this foundation of the American Dream,” said Christina Sandefur, executive vice president of the Goldwater Institute and co-author of the new study and book.

A decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court shocked the nation with its decision in Kelo v. New London by rubber-stamping a decision by state officials in Connecticut to seize private homes by eminent domain to make way for private redevelopment projects.

“Americans are supposed to be protected from the government taking away their land and giving it to a political allies. That just isn’t supposed to happen in this country,” said Christina Sandefur.   “But the Kelo decision gave the federal government’s blessing to these sorts of corporate welfare projects – at the expense of American home- and business-owners.”

Laws that allow the government to take someone’s property away from them and give it to another private landowner exist in almost all 50 states. But even more insidious are laws that allow the government to regulate property owners so heavily as to effectively take away their rights – but without any just compensation.

When the government takes a person’s property through eminent domain, it is required to pay for it. But when the government regulates away the value and leaves the owner with worthless land or a home that can’t be repaired, people often receive no compensation, thanks to court decisions that have reduced what qualifies as a “taking” of property.

Ten years ago, Arizona voters responded to the Kelo decision by passing a state law by a 2:1 margin that requires the government to compensate property owners not only for eminent domain takings, but also when the government regulates away the value of land or passes restrictions that bar people from using their property.

“Arizona’s voter-passed law is the strongest in the nation and has protected dozens of Arizona property owners from having their property rights taken away through regulations and without compensation,” said Timothy Sandefur, the vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute and co-author of the paper and book. “Now it’s time for the other 49 states to follow.”

The new paper proposes the Property Ownership Fairness Act, which is based on the Arizona law and would require state and local governments to compensate property owners when they pass new regulations or laws that diminish the value of property by changing the way it can be used.

“The government shouldn’t be allowed to change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Timothy Sandefur. “Whether it’s restrictions on use that forbid people from fixing up their homes, or laws that force them to dedicate land as a wildlife preserve, or changing a city ordinance to prevent owners from renting out their homes, if the government takes away a person’s property rights, that person deserves to be compensated for their lost value.”

Under the Property Ownership Fairness Act, the government can still enact laws that protect the public from dangerous uses of property – and it can even pass new regulations if the community wants them. This law simply ensures the costs of regulation are shared by the community as a whole, not shouldered by individual property owners.

Read the Goldwater Institute study, The Property Ownership Fairness Act: Protecting Private Property Rights, here.

Order Timothy and Christina Sandefur’s new book, Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st-Century America, here.



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