But too often, government limits the responsible and productive use of property or tries to take it without providing the compensation required by the Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution allows government to take private property for public use, but only when it pays just compensation. This is sometimes referred to as eminent domain, condemnation, or a “taking.” Government often evades this obligation by using regulations to limit use of property and reduce its value.
Rose Knick just wants to enjoy her property in peace and quiet, but her local government allowed the public unrestricted access to visit suspected gravesites, without offering any compensation. Rose is challenging the taking in federal court, after a Supreme Court victory removed an obstacle between her and justice for the taking.
PLF has observed a growing trend of governments using fines and outright forfeitures to take control of property and pad their budgets. But the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits these excessive fines.
Instead of taking property directly, government seeks to diminish an owner’s control, effectively turning private property into a public asset while maintaining the fiction of private ownership.
Edward Poitevent’s family land in Louisiana had been declared “critical habitat” for the dusky gopher frog, which would have ended his ability to use the property for anything else. Edward and PLF fought back against this land grab all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, ultimately restoring his property rights and family legacy.
Land use laws were originally justified as promoting health and safety, and reducing public nuisances. But governments routinely use land use laws to restrict or eliminate development they don’t like.
Brian and Jody Bea were nearly finished constructing their home along the Columbia River when a hiker noticed that they could see it from a trail. That complaint resulted in an order from the Columbia River Gorge Commission to cease all development and reversed the county’s already-granted permit. The Washington Supreme Court agreed with PLF that once permits are approved and development is underway, it’s too late to complain.
When land owners apply for a permit to change the use of their property, they are particularly vulnerable to government attempts to take something in exchange for the permit, whether money, special conditions for use, or a piece of the property itself.
The California Coastal Commission told Patrick Nollan that he couldn’t renovate his home without giving up a slice of his property to the government. He fought their decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which pronounced it an “out and out plan of extortion.”
The Fourth Amendment says that the government must have a warrant and good cause to enter your home or other property. Too often, regulators find it easy to violate this right.
Environmental statutes like the federal Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act give regulatory agencies an unprecedented amount of power to regulate private property. Moreover, these laws are enforced mostly by administrative agency bureaucrats who are unaccountable to the people or even to effective legislative oversight. PLF fights to ensure that individual rights are respected in the enforcement of environmental laws.
The EPA threatened Andy Johnson with millions of dollars in fines for building a pond on his property as a supposed violation of the Clean Water Act. Even though the pond restored wetlands, created habitat, and filtered the water that passed through; the bureaucrats demanded he rip it out. In the face of PLF litigation, the EPA realized their error and settled the case.