House Kills Property Theft Bill

private property fence rope


On Tuesday, the House killed legislation commonly known as the Dilapidated Buildings Act by a vote of 35 to 63. The bill – which has come up again and again for several years – would empower government to seize private property for forced repairs at the owner’s expense. It is, in short, one of the most egregious attempts to infringe on property rights we’ve seen in years.

If the building is in violation of code and considered to be an “imminent danger to the public health or safety” or even a “public nuisance,” the court could seize the property and hand it over to a “receiver” for repairs. While the receiver holds the property, he could also profit off of it via rent, operations, lease, etc., for as long as he holds it. In short, he could do anything with it but sell it, provided he is also executing the needed repairs.

If, after the process is complete, the owner cannot or will not pay for the repairs plus a “receivership fee” (regardless of the amount of profit the receiver made from the property while in his possession), the court would sell the property, pay the court costs and receiver, and the owner would get what is left over.

While the legislation’s supporters argue that the bill bends over backwards to give property owners every chance to address the problems, the fact remains that if no action is taken, the government will steal the property and force the owner to pay the repair bill. Of course, this only applies to commercial buildings, not to homes or properties in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings. But if the concern is really just for public safety, why the exceptions?

In short, citizens have a right to their own property, provided that property doesn’t actually endanger others. If code violations are present, your business may be shut down, but government has no right to force you to repair it.

The principle animating the Dilapidated Buildings Act was a kind of soft government-knows-best authoritarianism. It would have set property rights back by a generation.

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