A reminder that property rights matter


Authors: Daniel Himebaugh & Taylor Wilson

A few months ago, this blog called attention to Seattle's "exceptional tree" ordinance.  We predicted that it was only a matter of time before a hapless Seattle homeowner was prosecuted for tampering with trees that the city considers special, even if those trees grew on private property.  It came as no surprise when we recently learned that the city fined a resident over $20,000 for removing one evergreen tree from his yard.

The tree was threatening his home and nearby power lines, with branches that reached to the middle of the roof and roots that ran under the driveway.  The homeowner called the city's permit hotline, and got the green light to remove the tree.  Months later, however, he received notice that he had violated city code and now faced a huge fine.  Fortunately, he contested the city's enforcement action, and the city eventually withdrew.

The larger point, aside from exposing Seattle's silly law and heavy-handed enforcement, is that this homeowner's story shows us what our communities might be like without property rights — individuals at the mercy of unthinking bureaucracies and confounding regulations.  Only by asserting his rights did the homeowner prevail, but what if he had no rights to rely on in the first place?  PLF tirelessly fights for the property rights of individuals in the face of infinite variations of overbearing land use and environmental regulations, like Seattle's tree ordinance.

And PLF follows the lead of some of our nation's greatest political thinkers on this issue, including James Madison, who wrote that, "Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses.  This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own."

Readers should visit our Property Rights page, which catalogues dozens of property rights cases that PLF is currently litigating, for more information about PLF's property rights practice.