Monday, December 21, 2009

Private Property - Don't Touch!!!

Private property is one of the fundamental building blocks upon which the United States is built. Regretfully the concept of private property is increasingly being abused. Specifically the claim that you are entitled to tell others what to do should you believe that your "property" is somehow being affected.

A recent illustration of this process appeared in the "" a local newspaper out of Wilmington, North Carolina. So I thought that I had better jump on this story as it also complements my beliefs that those who believe in so-called intellectual property are claiming property rights that they don't possess.

The Star News writes in the article "Ocean Isle Beach homeowners, officials battle over native landscape" that:

Beauty, it's said, is in the eye of the beholder. And for Doug and Jane Oakley, their house in Ocean Isle Beach surrounded by thick and lush native vegetation is a beautiful sight.

“This is the glue that holds this island together,” said Jane Oakley as she pointed out the yaupon, wax myrtle and cedars amid the green canopy in her backyard. “Mother nature isn't wrong.”

But some of their neighbors, along with officials in this Brunswick County beach town, have a different opinion.

They see the trees and shrubs, many covered in thickets of thorny vines, that surround the house at 9 Isle Plaza as an eyesore and a haven for rodents and snakes.

The town has now taken the couple to court in an effort to get their property cleaned up


The house, built in 1964, also looks out of place and a bit dilapidated when compared with the newer and larger beach homes that line the quiet street.

The Oakleys think that might be the real reason they're under pressure to clean up their lot.

So here we have the neighbors and the local municipality asserting that they have a "right" to "force" a property owner to do things on their property to protect the property values of others.

On the nature of property from the Libertarian point of view, S. Balasubramanian wrote that one of the most basic principles of Objectivism is that no man may claim the right to initiate force against another. (An Objectivist Recants on IP). I am not an Objectivist (in fact I consider it to be a bankrupt philosophy), nevertheless there is an important fundamental take-away from this Libertarian concept. One does not have a right to "force" another on their property to protect your so-called property interests.

Unfortunately, neighbors (as the Oakley story points out) seem to believe today that they can tell you what to do on your property based on the fact that it affects their property values. The Oakley case regretfully is not unique, when we lived in California the local papers would occasionally have articles on how trees on private property and public parks, blocking coastal views, would be mysteriously cut down.

In terms of so-called intellectual property, those who have "sold" you the content believe, like the Oakley neighbors, that they maintain an entitlement to reach out and tell you how you can use your property. S. Balasubramanian phrased concept this better with the following question: "How do you reconcile the facts that recognising and enforcing IP essentially gives some people a right to the physical property of others?"

The situation that the Oakley's are in is really quite similar to what is happening with so-called intellectual property. The figurative "neighbors" assert that they have an unjustified right to "force" you to protect their property even if it places a needless burden on you. It is time to recognize that "neighbors" do not have a right to "force" you to protect their property rights (which in some cases is fictitious anyway).


Sonya said...

It seems to me that if it could be proven that the landscaping was creating pest problems, the neighbors should be able to ask that actions be taken to solve the problem. The burden of proof should be on the accusers and the solution would be hard to prescribe. Perhaps a series of solutions presented by someone knowledgeable (pest control guy?) and then thirty days to show the court that "reasonable action" has been initiated? Forcing cosmetic changes is ridiculous. But beachfront people can be rather insane anyhow.

Steve R. said...

Municipalities are legally entitled to force a homeowner to clean-up and or repair "hazards" as part of their given police powers to protect the safety of citizens.

This police power, however, can easily be abused with our "entitlement" culture. Unfortunately, the Oakley's are victims of the neighbors incorrect beliefs that they (neighbors) are entitled to "force" the Oakley's to protect the value of their property, which they don't have.

The police power of municipalities can also be abused with eminent domain, where a municipality uses its power to condemn private land and sell (give) it to another private landowner. See Kelo v. City of New London