Property rights start with the home

September 13, 2021 | By STEVEN D. ANDERSON
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 This article is featured in the fall edition of our quarterly magazine Sword&Scales. To read the full edition visit:


When I first began in the libertarian public-interest legal movement—17 years ago!—my work focused exclusively on property rights. In fact, it was my interest in that issue that led me to start out as what I’ve referred to as a professional troublemaker (or community organizer, depending on the audience) with the Institute for Justice way back in 2004.

What’s struck me over my more than a decade and a half of work helping place constitutional limits on government power is that we sometimes do our side a disservice by utilizing esoteric legal language or overly philosophic terminology.

When I’d give talks about stopping governments from taking property through eminent domain—not for public uses like roads or schoolhouses, but for private ones like condominiums or shopping malls—I’d try to catch myself in discussing the concept of property rights, or at the very least expand on what I meant beyond the phrase.

Property, of course, doesn’t have any inherent rights. We naturally have rights in property. Debates about property rights, then, aren’t about property. They are about people.

And over the course of human history, the most important property we have tended to own is our home.

It’s where we celebrate and grieve, laugh and play, break bread, and grow. There’s both intrinsic and real value, the latter of which often serving as the means for us to do other things in life, like educate our children or build a business.

The sad reality is that government rules often stand in the way of us experiencing all these things. There are countless stories of folks who’ve been caught in the crosshairs of bad policy, especially on housing, and how that’s led us to where we are today, a place where the creation of new homes is costly, difficult, and sometimes simply prohibited. These are the real-world outcomes of the housing crisis.

PLF is moving forward with plans to significantly amplify our litigation on rights in property and legalizing the production of housing, focusing initially on accessory dwelling units (or ADUs).

After all, how we treat property—ourselves—is ultimately up to us. Pacific Legal Foundation’s charge is to ensure it’s with respect.

This article is featured in the fall edition of our quarterly magazine Sword&Scales. To read the full edition visit: