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Property Rights

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Home Page > News and Society > Economics > Property Rights

Property Rights

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Posted: Apr 23, 2008 |Comments: 0
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During the last general session, I ran a bill with the rather innocuous title of “Environmentally Restricted Zoning Districts”. The feedback, particularly the opposition, I received on this issue led me to question whether we really understand our constitutional rights as property owners.

The right to hold property is a fundamental right guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution. Traditionally, this right has included, “control of the use of the property, the right to benefit from the property (examples: mining rights and rent), a right to transfer or sell the property, and a right to exclude others from the property.”

Cities and counties, which are political subdivisions of the state, have been granted by the citizenry the ability to zone a property for appropriate use so as not to affect the property values of neighboring properties, but that ability must not allow the arbitrary taking or de-valuing of property without adequate checks and balances. It has often been said that one person’s rights end where another’s begin. While my idea of exercising my property rights may include beautifying and building to maximize my property value, my neighbor may choose to exercise his right to do nothing with his property. This very scenario is being played out right now in Orem where an elderly woman was arrested and brought to trial for failing to maintain her yard. In this instance, her right to neglect her property was limited by a vote of the people many years ago.

Eminent domain, the seizure of private property without the owner’s consent, has been deemed appropriate as long as the property is used for a public purpose and the owner is sufficiently compensated. Most government entities in our area are reticent to seize property through the use of eminent domain because it does violate a fundamental right. I am very concerned, though, by a growing trend in other parts of the country where municipalities seize valuable land under the guise of public benefit, only to later sell that land for development of properties which can generate higher taxes, thus fulfilling the mandate of benefitting the public good. Over the last few years, a number of bills have been run in the Utah Legislature limiting the use of eminent domain and strengthening the rights of property owners. Not all have been successful, but the issue will continue to be discussed.

In order for property rights to be adequately safeguarded, they must be more fully understood. All around us, the rights of property owners are being curtailed by elections and legislation. While some is necessary and understandable, it is our duty to ourselves and to our neighbors to hold the right of property ownership as one of the inalienable rights of citizenship in this great nation. Let us be cautious and not cede that right without proper consideration.

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Article Tags:
property rights, property bill, constitutional rights, control property, benefit from property, transfer or sell, zoning, de valuing, eminent domain, seize property, public purpose, compensation, municipalities seize land, utah legislature, land owners

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