In the late 1600s, British political philosopher John Locke told folks that the state, i.e. government, only existed to protect the lives and property of people against encroachments by others. The Founding Fathers relied heavily on Locke’s concepts when writing the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, neither Locke nor the Founders looked critically at the circular logic of claiming for the state the power to take private property in order to supposedly “protect” private property. As a result, contemporary America is rife with examples of citizens running into bizarre manifestations of this problem: the state comes up with all manner of “creative” ways to run people out of their homes, even as the state is supposed to be the agency that exists to “protect” property.
It's usually not a good idea to let foxes guard hen houses.
Case in point: the small section of Charlestown, Indiana, called Pleasant Ridge. As the Institute for Justice explains, beginning in 2014, Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall decided things weren’t going to be so “pleasant” in Pleasant Ridge, preferring to put a high-tax, “upscale subdivision” in its place.
According to WAVE News, the mayor and his City Council have pushed through a 20-year plan to "redevelop the neighborhood.” But this means he and his pals must level the old homes -- and in order to do that, he has to take the 354 properties from the owners, or at least see the owners leave, so that a big-money developer can swoop in and buy the land and turn it into the mayor’s Shangri La.
Previously, unscrupulous politicians and developers in places like New London, Connecticut were able to push people out and hand property over to developers using the legalized crime of “eminent domain," and they got some creative assistance from the U.S. Supreme Court to support their “take property and hand it to private interests” scheme.
But the mayor of Charlestown and his piratical cronies are taking a different tack. They’re sailing the coercive seas of code enforcement, and, once more, proving that under most government paradigms, your land is not really yours: you merely “rent” or exist on the property at the gracious mercy of your government master.
In 2016 Hall and his pals began fining Pleasant Ridge residents for even the most minor of the myriad Charlestown property codes on the books. For example, how about a $50-per-day fine for a five inch cut on your screen door?
Reason Magazine’s Scott Shackford explains in more detail:
The citations state that the owner accrues penalties of $50 per violation, per day. Multiple citations are issued per property, which means that a single property will begin accumulating hundreds of dollars in fines each day. The fines can be for things as minor as a torn screen, weeds taller than eight inches or chipped paint. In many cases, the fines begin the day the citation was issued, not the day the owner received it. So owners can easily be on the hook for thousands of dollars in fines before they even receive notice, and the fines continue to accrue until the owner is able to repair the property.
The politicians want a developer called Neace to get the land. As Shackford notes:
The city knows that many of the residents cannot afford to pay these exorbitant fines, leaving them only two options: Sell their home to Neace Ventures or raze it to the ground to have the fines waived. The scheme would be bad enough if Neace were offering fair market value for the homes, but it is not. The inspections regime has been a windfall for Neace. Not only has it compelled more than 140 homeowners to sell—it has also forced them to sell at a considerable loss. Most of the homes have a tax assessed value of between $25,000 and $35,000, and they would be worth much more if the city had not caused the market to collapse by announcing in 2014 that it was going to destroy every home.
Shackford notes that the Mayor even acknowledged his desire for the residents to be fined out of ownership.
Unless property rights are actually recognized as sacrosanct, this kind of abuse is always a threat. The folks in Pleasant Ridge know this for a fact.