Your Neighbor's Rights to Your Property
by Reginald Welkin
What does it mean to own something? What rights are normally implied? Can you repaint it, use it for a different purpose, or even destroy it? In most circumstances, it would seem that to own something implies complete control over it, but this isn't exactly the reality. Should ownership and property rights be more clarified so that people have realistic expectations about each type of ownership or should property rights be expanded to that of true ownership?
Of course we should really look at some of the limitations of ownership. When you purchase a piece of real estate, you would assume that you could do almost anything with it. Not so. First you have the reality of zoning. Depending on how the property is zoned, you will be limited in your use of that land. If you want to run a store front you may not, unless it is zoned Commercial. If you want to build a house, many lots may not be considered large enough while others may need to have sufficiently intense agricultural use before a house is allowed.
Then, there is the right of your neighbors to vote against your plans, limit external paint colors, fence type, and various other things you might want to do with that land. Sometimes there are local ordinances requiring certain architectural features, not for safety, but for esthetic reasons. Your neighbors may also have the right to force you to make improvements or clean up your land if it is considered an eye sore or otherwise affects the perceived value of your neighbor's land. They can even keep you from cutting down trees or force you to plant grass or keep it watered.
Another, sometimes onerous limitation that can be put on your property is that of environmental impact. This not only can limit your making improvements on that land, but can force you to stop the use you might already be doing. Your land can be considered habitat for something, even though it may not even live there. Some improvements like cattle ponds may change your land into "wetlands" and require you to limit or cease your use of it. Farmers have been force to cease planting in areas that they have been planting for generations because of fairy shrimp and other species that haven't been shown to actually be affected by their planting.
Speaking of farmers and water, certain farmers in Western California have lost their long held water rights due to it being needed for environmental purposes. Rather than limiting all farmers by a certain percentage during drought, a certain percentage of farmers were completely limited at the expense of their productive trees. Trees take years to become productive, so this basically bankrupted these farmers. While the official reasons were environmental, there are rumors that this land was targeted, so it could be cheaply purchased by those that were not bankrupted and used for subdivisions. Obviously rumors can't be trusted, but it does highlight the nefarious possibilities that can exist when your land is really not your own.
What about animals? There was a time when many people killed and ate their own livestock, hunted, killed off animals destructive to their crops, and even put down sick and injured animals. This was normal. This is changing, for good and bad. Obviously certain things are naturally a shared resource. That will have to be a topic for another article. On the other hand, many limitations have been placed on pet and livestock owners. Depending on region, you are likely to find that certain vaccines are required not only when you sell animals or their products as food, but just to be in possession of them. Your neighbors might report you for putting down an animal yourself instead of taking it to a vet. In some jurisdictions, some active animal rights groups now have the right to search your property, without a warrant, to make sure you aren't breeding your own animals and that, in their opinion, they are well cared for, even if you don't have animals. This side-steps the Search and Seizure clause found in our Bill of Rights, and most people don't even realize it.
There are many areas where your basic rights to property are limited. Most of these limitations are not well known and people often only find out about them when they face the long overreaching arm of the law...and those that benefit from it. Many rights to property are not universal, but only given to those with political or financial power. We should begin to learn more about our rights, those lost and those that are being lost.
Writes about politics from a Conservative Libertarian viewpoint. While pushing for a government that is Fiscally Conservative and Socially Liberal, he personally appreciates the Socially Conservative lifestyle.
Copyright R. A. Welkin