Posts Tagged ‘real estate’

Closing costs and cartel capture

Pulling up stakes and moving is tough enough. Regulations that drive up closing costs make things worse [Naomi Schaefer Riley/New York Post, thanks for quotes]

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Walter Olson says that it’s not just the taxes that make some states more expensive than others. “States regulate real-estate transfers so as to require additional stages and the involvement of certain professionals’ services, like lawyers’, at more stages.” He says New York is “particularly bad.”

Olson notes: “The title-insurance industry is also regulated in ways that make consumers pay much more in some states, independent of any difference in underwriting risk.”

And the “high-cost methods required in some states are stoutly defended by lobbies of professionals who make a living from the expensive way of doing things.”

Environment roundup

  • Clarifying Penn Central: does a government taking property violate Fifth Amendment when it groups together commonly owned parcels in such a way as to avoid an obligation to provide just compensation? [Ilya Shapiro, Ilya Somin on Supreme Court case of Murr v. Wisconsin]
  • How to win NYC real estate cleverest-deal-of-year award: sacrifice floor space to outwit regulation [Alex Tabarrok]
  • Desert delirium: “Phoenix has the cheapest water in the country” [Coyote]
  • If you ban low-quality housing you might discover it was the only housing low-income people could afford [Emily Washington, Market Urbanism]
  • Who’s cheering on/gloating over climate-speech subpoenas? Media Matters, of course, and some others too;
  • “Exhibiting Bias: how politics hijacks science at some museums” [John Tierney, City Journal]
  • Hadn’t realized Karen Hinton, of Chevron-Ecuador suit PR fame, was (now-exiting) flack for NYC Mayor De Blasio [New York Post; Jack Fowler/NRO]

Scott Alexander on The Art of the Deal

The Slate Star Codex blogger decided to read, and belatedly review, The Art of the Deal (1988) by real estate developer and now-GOP nomination frontrunner Donald Trump. Trump and his campaign aside, the book affords insights into the legal and regulatory side of the development business. Following a funny description of the role of the real estate developer in coordinating deals, Alexander writes:

…The developer’s other job is dealing with regulations. The way Trump tells it, there are so many regulations on development in New York City in particular and America in general that erecting anything larger than a folding chair requires the full resources of a multibillion dollar company and half the law firms in Manhattan. Once the government grants approval it’s likely to add on new conditions when you’re halfway done building the skyscraper, insist on bizarre provisions that gain it nothing but completely ruin your chance of making a profit, or just stonewall you for the heck of it if you didn’t donate to the right people’s campaigns last year. Reading about the system makes me both grateful and astonished that any structures have ever been erected in the United States at all, and somewhat worried that if anything ever happens to Donald Trump and a few of his close friends, the country will lose the ability to legally construct artificial shelter and we will all have to go back to living in caves.

But if you are waiting for new proposals from Trump about reforming regulation, you might need to go on waiting:

Here is a guy whose job is cutting through bureaucracy, and who is apparently quite good at it. Yet throughout the book – and for that matter, throughout his campaign for the nomination of a party that makes cutting bureaucracy a big part of their platform – he doesn’t devote a lot of energy to expressing discontent with the system. There is no libertarian streak to Trump – in the process of successfully navigating all of these terrible rules, he rarely takes a step back and wonders about a better world where these rules don’t exist. Despite having way more ability to change the system than most people, he seems to regard it as a given, not worth debating. … the rules are there; his job is to make the best deal he can within those rules.

March 2 roundup

  • Pennsylvania bill would restrict the pre-paid business cemeteries could do, which by remarkable coincidence would benefit their competitors on the funeral home side [Allentown Morning Call]
  • How to get capital out of China? Lose a lawsuit on purpose [Chuin-Wei Yap, WSJ Law Blog]
  • Arms-trafficking sting caught crusader against videogames, guns: “Judge Sentences Ex-California Senator Leland Yee to Five Years for Racketeering” [KNTV (auto-plays), earlier]
  • Workplace bias, which can mean a lot of things, would be an ethics violation for lawyers under proposed ABA model rule [ABA Journal, more]
  • Breaking: New York court denies Donald Trump’s bid to throw out AG Eric Schneiderman’s suit over Trump University [ruling, The Hill, Eric Turkewitz] More background: Lowering the Bar.
  • Grounding interstate comity: California Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) wants to ban state-funded travel to sister states with religious conscience laws [Bay Area Reporter (“discrimination of any kind …will certainly not be tolerated beyond our borders.”)]
  • “NY Times: Contaminated Property Makes For Costly Inheritance” [Paul Caron/TaxProf]

Donald Trump and libel litigation

Presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaking today: “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” Trump also said of Amazon, whose Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, a newspaper that just ran an editorial seeking to rally opposition to Trump: “If I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

The President has no direct power to change libel law, which consists of state law constrained by constitutional law as laid out by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan. A President could appoint Justices intent on overturning the press protections of Sullivan or promote a constitutional amendment to overturn it. Assuming one or the other eventually was made to happen, further changes in libel law would probably require action at the state level, short of some novel attempt to create a federal cause of action for defamation.

But although Trump is unlikely to obtain the exact set of changes he outlines, the outburst is psychologically revealing. Donald Trump has been filing and threatening lawsuits to shut up critics and adversaries over the whole course of his career. He dragged reporter Tim O’Brien through years of litigation over a relatively favorable Trump biography that assigned a lower valuation to his net worth than he thought it should have. He sued the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic over a piece arguing that a planned Trump skyscraper in lower Manhattan would be “one of the silliest things” that could be built in the city. He used the threat of litigation to get an investment firm to fire an analyst who correctly predicted that the Taj Mahal casino would not be a financial success. He sued comedian Bill Maher over a joke.

I have been writing about the evils of litigation for something like 30 years, and following the litigious exploits of Donald Trump for very nearly that long. I think it very plausible to expect that if he were elected President, he would bring to the White House the same spirit of litigiousness he has so often shown as a public figure. (cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

P.S. Also reprinted at Newsweek. And Ilya Somin cites further elements forming a pattern: Trump has expressed his wish to “have the FCC take some of his critics off the airwaves” and his regret that protesters at his events could not be dealt with in such a way that they “have to be carried out on a stretcher.” He also writes that should Trump proceed to appoint judges who strongly share his view of libel law, those judges “are unlikely to effectively protect other important speech rights and civil liberties.” And a late-January post from Patterico recalls Trump threats against the Washington Post (again), John Kasich, a t-shirt company, and a Jeb Bush PAC, to which might be added the Club for Growth, reporter Tim Mak, Scotland, Univision, and many more. Yet more: Mike Masnick, TechDirt.

City of Detroit as regulator

Part of a letter to the editor from Bert G. Osterberg of Costa Mesa, Calif. in the December 19 Wall Street Journal:

As a former Detroit resident and former city employee, I can attest to the odious role of overregulation in my hometown’s decline. When Detroit began to racially change, Mayor Coleman A. Young addressed the complaints of home buyers that they were being cheated with undisclosed defects of their home purchases by championing the passage of City Certification before any sale. This regulation not only required disclosure of defects but that all properties be brought up to current city code before the sale could be made. This, of course, led to mass abandonment of older homes as the cost of compliance was often more than the value of the house….

I’m in the early stages of a contemplated writing project on why my home city of Detroit failed, that is, why it has performed so much more poorly in recent decades than many other American cities that have faced serious economic challenge and social conflict. Feel free to send specific explanations, vignettes and suggested readings (not general rants about the city, please) to me at editor – at – overlawyered – dot – com or leave as comments if they are of general reader interest.

NYC’s expediters

Can New York City really support an army of an estimated 8,300 “expediters” who run paperwork around to city offices, wait in line, haggle with officials, and generally navigate the bureaucracy on behalf of those who need permits, licenses and other municipal decisions? It’s a testimony to the dysfunction of the city’s governance [Kanner, Renn/Urbanophile]