This is the first of my three part series on [tag-tec]eminent domain[/tag-tec].
If there’s a subject that gets my dander up to a fast gale force CAT 5 it’s got to be eminent domain.
I believe in property rights. They’re irrevocable. It’s my opinion that the Supreme Court decision giving cities and states the go ahead to plunder property owners set us back 100 years or more. Because of it, we’re being faced with the legal fight of our lives for our future as investors and landlords.
But I also believe we can win and we are winning. Thanks to a lot of people who are willing to stand up for the Constitution while helping small property owners regain ground one house at a time.
Here’s an interesting case that illustrates my point.
Jim and Joanne Saleet were a hardworking couple who had lived in their modest Lakewood, Ohio home for 40 years. After the Supreme Court decision, the Lakewood Mayor, Madeleine Cain, decided the Saleets were not paying enough property tax. No matter that the couple had always been prompt and willing to pay their fair share. It was simply that they weren’t being billed enough.
Normally, a mayor and city council would raise taxes. That is what has been going on in Davidson County. But what’s the answer when you can’t get those revenues up fast enough?
You’d think eminent domain powers would only be used for such things as a new school or new roads. How about upscale condominiums?
How dare the Saleets and some of their selfish neighbors to want to stay in their own homes especially when their homes were located in one of the most picturesque spots in town? Didn’t they realize the city needed to replace their little houses with expensive upscale income-generating condos?
And it didn’t seem to bother Mayor Cain that there wasn’t yet a developer bull-dozingly ready to move such a deal. In fact, Mayor Cain was going to have to go out and find one. Interesting…..
So exactly how does a town like Lakewood take property away from an elderly couple like the Saleets and 55 of their neighbors plus four apartment building owners and more than a dozen businesses?
You declare the neighborhood as being "blighted".
Except that was kind of hard to get across since the Saleets’ had kept their little house almost Martha Stewart perfect with fresh paint and well sniped lawn.
You have to redefine "blighted". Now blighted meant any house that wasn’t three bedrooms, two baths, with an attached two-car garage and central air.
Is your blood boiling yet?
When a crafty Jim Saleet pointed out the fact that the mayor and most of the council did indeed also live in "blighted" housing it was soon realized this smart old goat wasn’t going to be re-pasturized easily.
That’s when legal help arrived for the Saleets. Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock who are attorneys for The Institute of Justice, filed suit against Lakewood on the Saleets’ behalf.
"This is a nationwide epidemic," said Berliner in 2004. "We have documented more than 10,000 instances of government taking property from one person to give it to another in just the last five years."
"It is fundamentally wrong, and contrary to the [tag-ice]Constitution[/tag-ice] for the government to take property from one private owner, and hand it over to another private owner, just because the government thinks that person is going to make more productive use of the land, " adds Bullock.
Tomorrow in Part II I’ll give the outcome of this very important story that incidentally has quite an added twist.