Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Liberty can be Unsightly, but That's a Good Thing

Do you know what liberty looks like?  Let me describe to you one form it might take.  It looks like overgrown weeds on an unkempt lawn.  It looks like a house exterior in disrepair.  It looks like a broken-down car in the driveway.  It's beautiful.




I have just described a piece of property that I'm sure we have all seen at one point or another.  Such a property would certainly elicit varied responses.  Some wouldn't give it a second thought.  Some would take pity on the poor owner.  And there are some who would call the police.*  Those who would call the police would dictate to their neighbor how a property should appear.  Those people would use government agents to coerce their neighbor to alter the property.  Those people would have the government agents use any force necessary, maybe even violence, if their neighbor resisted.  Those people are the enemies of liberty.


Those people don't understand that liberty and property rights are inextricably linked.  You cannot have one without the other.  Liberty is the freedom to do whatever you want to do with your property.  Liberty also means that other people can't mess with your property.  Just so we're clear, your property includes not just your lawn, your house, and your car. It includes all your stuff, everything you acquire through your purchases, and everything you produce using your own resources.  It includes your body and your thoughts.

I bring up property rights in this, my second post, for a very important reason.  It provides a litmus test to see if any law violates the principles of liberty.  Here is the test:  If a law forbids an act that does no harm to the property of another person, then it is a bad law.

When properly applied, this litmus test can lead to some startling conclusions.  Because of my firm belief in the principles of liberty I cannot support things like local ordinances against "blight", zoning laws, building codes, construction permits, business licensure, prohibition on certain substances, and many other things.  Many of these "laws" punish behaviors that in no way affect other people.  Other "laws" attempt to prevent the imagined possibility of something bad maybe happening in the future.  But we are not fortune-tellers.  We don't punish probabilities.  We punish direct violations of property rights, only after they occur.

Liberty demands that property rights be absolute.  Do whatever you want with your property, as long as it doesn't harm anyone.  Every peaceful choice should be fair game.  So go ahead and let the lawn take care of itself, refuse to paint the house, and keep that old junker where everyone can see it.  Not many people will choose to do that but I will fight for your right to do so.

*Some people would complain to the homeowners association.  I plan to address HOA's in a future post.  To put it simply, when you live in an HOA you do not own all the rights to your house and you are therefore legally restricted by contract from doing certain things.

20 comments:

  1. Now just the other day I was wondering your opinion of HOA. Several days a week I get annoyed at the house at the entrance to my neighborhood that has 6 dead cars in their front yard. But at the end of the day their extra dead cars mirrors my chicken coop in the backyard so I just roll my eyes and drive on.

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    1. Good application! We find ourselves more free when we let people do what they want. When we give in to the temptation to try to control others, we soon find ourselves controlled.

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    2. Hey Dan! I agree that statement. I would add that since HOA's are opted into and not controlled by the state, I have no problem with them. If you find value in submitting to a set of rules as long as everyone else does and the set of rules are voluntarily adopted then you are talking about a simple case of private contract.

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    3. Jeff, exactly! Private contracts absolutely have a place in a free society. As long as everything is spelled out and defined in a proper manner, I don't have a problem with the private "regulation" of property.

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  2. Mr. Steele pointed me to this blog. I have to comment, though, that it is not illegal to let your lawn go or have dead cars in your yard, at least not as far as the city or state goes. What you are talking about are private laws. These are contracts that neighbors have entered with one another. To buy a house in this area you sign into a contract that you will maintain certain standards democratically selected via an HOA. The point is that if your property looks like hell that drags down all property values on the block, so really this does have an adverse affect on your neighbors. I, personally, would not want to live in a place with an HOA as I like to have cars to work on and other things that would most likely be prohibited. Then there's historic designation, which is a city, state, or federal standard applied on your property, based on where it is designated. This is a trade-off. Technically it can constitute a regulatory taking in Arizona after a bill passed in I want to say 2006. You can actually receive compensation for them regulating your property as such, but really it isn't worth it, because historic designation provides you access to many grants to fix major structural issues that come from older buildings. Zoning is a completely different animal. Zoning was originally put in because of the sanitary conditions of early cities. Factories were next to houses. There was bad drinking water. The concept came from Germany as a matter of organization and it worked wonders. These days a lot of cities are loosening up their zoning codes in areas of non-manufacturing and allowing mixed-use. I'm a huge fan of that and live in an area like that. Zoning laws are up for debate these days.

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    1. Andrew,

      Thanks for taking the time to read. I appreciate the feedback.

      My family has been cited in the past by the city for having weeds that were too tall. There are local ordinances against such things. Surely different municipalities will have different ordinances but they certainly exist. Some municipalities have ordinances against vehicles in the driveway that are not in working order. Some have ordinances against parking cars on an unimproved surface, such as a lawn. These are the types of laws to which I was referring. I was not referring to HOA CC&Rs in the post. CC&R’s are agreed to by the buyer of a home. Therefore, the homeowner is contractually obligated to abide by certain rules.
      I have not researched historic designations, but I am not a fan of the government forcing taxpayers to pay for the rehabilitation of historic locations.
      I understand the reasoning behind zoning laws but I believe that zoning is the wrong answer. If a factory pollutes the land a house resides on, assuming both parties own all the rights to their land, the proper response is not to restrict what landowners can do with the land they own. The proper response is for the homeowner to press charges against the factory for violating his property rights. If the violations actually happened and can be proven to a jury, the factory should have to pay for cleanup and any other damages.

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    2. I'd be interested in seeing the ordinances that warranted the fine. From what I understand you'll only really see beautification laws in designated neighborhoods or under private law. The only place you are required to trim plants are if they pose a risk, like a tree branch that will fall onto a sidewalk or a bush that blocks drivers from being able to see oncoming traffic.

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    3. This website has the entire Chandler municipal code (that was where my family was living at the time): http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=10158
      If you go to Part IV, Chapter 30, you'll find a lot of the ordinances that I was referring to that don't let you do various things on your property.

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    4. Yeah, looks like Chandler is a bunch of prudes. You can have one restoration car in your backyard, but not two. I get what they're doing. It is an attempt to keep property values high as these things do immediately drag down the value of your property and thus your neighbors and thus your block and thus the surrounding blocks and blah blah blah. This is why were I to live in the Tempe/Chandler area I'd position myself in the county island between Scottsdale and Tempe where these city ordinances don't exist. They have their reasons and they are valid, but a bit too nit-picky for me. You should see Paradise Valley's zoning code. It is insanely exclusionary. I don't know if they ever made it to court, but there were some lawsuits against their "rich people only" laws. Really these are problems that exist in cities that are really just suburbs. They make laws to force people into being good neighbors. I get it, but I hate it. Give me a compound in the middle of the desert with a big aluminum building where I can work on my cars and blast music.

      I live in Nevada currently, which is very much a libertarian paradise, except the city I am in keeps having fights between the libertarian and the religious groups. They keep trying to impose a last call and to ban some of the seedier businesses, but they keep failing. They did get it illegal to drink in the park and to have open glass bottles outside downtown, but the brothels are open and I can go to a bar anytime 24/7. I can also go shoot my gun at the free firing range on the edge of town, but if I don't want to go to a range just anywhere beyond the city limits is fine. I guess some ammo is illegal due to causing wildfires, but who shoots their super expensive ammo for target practice? I'm ranting because I should have been in bed an hour ago. I'm going to stop typing.

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    5. I enjoyed the rant! I would also love to live in a county island. Someday perhaps. I find it easy to be firm in my belief that government has no business telling people what they can do with their property. It's a little more tricky to decide what gets to happen in "public" areas. Ideally I would transfer or sell all public property to private parties and let the private parties decide what to do and how to run things like roads and parks. I wouldn't have a problem with a government legislatively choosing which parties to transfer property to, as I'm sure a government would prefer the properties to continue operating as originally intended. Even better, I would love to see the title of each road (or at least the travel easement) transferred to an association made up of the property owners that the road directly serves. The same thing could apply to public parks, utilities, and other properties.

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  3. I could go on quite a bit about the pros and cons of zoning if you're interested. This was my degree.

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    1. That sounds like a fascinating field. What's it called exactly? Ever since I've been learning about liberty I've found that I am interested in all sorts of different fields. That's mostly because I find myself thinking of various ways a free society would function.

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    2. It is Urban Planning, basically a degree in red tape that I received in 2008 when the housing market crashed and 80% of the people in that field were fired.

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  4. So really, I can do pretty much whatever I want to with my property as long as I'm not hurting others! That's how it should be.

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  5. The problem with an ugly yard/house is it does harm others. It harms the property values of the surrounding houses. Now do the surrounding property owners have claim? This is a simple matter of whether or no the dude who won't clean up his property owed a duty of care. In an HOA the answer is simple. Privately property owners agree to certain use limitations on their property. The limit the prevelance of such private contracts is not in accordance with liberty. In the case there is no private contract the issue is one of homesteading. If the clean neighbors were there first they and the previous occupant was clean, one might argue that a clean neighborhood was a homesteaded right. And the decrease in value is an injury that warrants compensation. But if the dirty house was their, the clean neighbors have no claim because they acquired the property more cheaply as the property was next to a dirty neighbor.

    This might help you out:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcPRmh5AIrI

    So will this re-telling of the Grinch:
    http://blog.libertarian.org.au/2010/12/13/a-very-pigouvian-christmas/

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    1. Adamo,
      Thanks for the comment.
      I understand why some say that, because of property values, ugly and unkempt houses harm their property rights. However, I must disagree. A homeowner owns all or some of the rights to the land but a homeowner does not own the price of the land. The price is determined by demand for the property. That is something that cannot be owned by anybody. Imagine a business that sells widgets. They’re the only business in town that sells widgets so they can command a very high price. But then another business starts up in the same town, also selling widgets. Prices necessarily drop. Can the first business sue the second business for lowering the value of their property? No. Factors that affect the value of your home are completely independent from your property rights. Additionally, when you own land, you get title to that land but you do not get title to the view because the view could be somebody else’s property. You have no authority over things that are outside your property. If you truly want one of your neighbors to alter their property, I suggest persuasion over coercion. It can be very effective.

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  6. Craig had a definite opinion about HOAs. It all started when the HOA got all over our case about our two adult children (then single and living at home) parked their cars in front of the house. They threatened to fine us and eventually put a lien on our home. Craig did tons of legal research on the rights of HOAs. Man, it was really scary to read how much power some of them had in other states. If I remember right, he went to one of their "hearings" and proved that the street belonged to the City and they had no jurisdiction.
    From that time forward he always addressed our payments to "The Taliban". Ha! What a funny guy!
    Keep up the good work here. Sounds like someone might be headed to Law School one of these days. : )
    So good to see you guys in December!

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    1. HOA's can definitely be a nuisance, especially if they try to enforce rules that don't exist. That is a crazy story!

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