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.
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]
Quoted in USA Today and other papers on what can be the very long road back once a reputation for riots tanks a community’s business climate and property values. [Yamiche Alcindor, USA Today]
“In August, Houston issued more single-family housing permits than all of California.” [David Brooks via Gideon Kanner]
Horror story in Queens points up flaws of the city’s deed-transfer system, and also of its pro-tenant housing court regime: “After Darrell Beatty failed to appear in August, a judge approved an eviction, but it was stayed last week when Beatty claimed he had health problems.” [New York Post]
NYC’s rent control laws “disproportionately benefit the well-to-do, who are more likely than the poor to remain for decades in apartments that become increasingly underpriced as the years go by. … The 220 affordable apartments [in a new West Side development responsive to subsidy incentives] will be split up among households of four earning no less than $50,300 and no more than $193,000 per year —- or nearly four times New York City’s median household income.” [Jim Epstein, Reason]
“Hundreds of home builders in the Pacific Northwest have been put on notice that if they use a dehumidifier to dry rain-damaged projects, they are infringing on a patent recently issued to a father and son who claim they invented the process.” [Legal NewsLine] (& Coyote)
“From a realtor: ‘Regarding the Metro, I never putting “walk to..” on my listings because when I took my GRI classes they warned us that “walk to” might trigger a complaint of discrimination against people with disabilities.’ Sigh…” — David Bernstein, law professor and author of “You Can’t Say That! The Threat To Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws”
A New Jersey woman is claiming in a lawsuit that “who sold her the unit [in Mays Landing, N.J.] ‘knowingly concealed’ that a ‘dangerous individual’ would be her future neighbor, which she alleges is material misrepresentation and fraud, according to the lawsuit filed last week in Atlantic County Superior Court of New Jersey.” [ABC News]
“There is no reason in the world for a case to be tried 20 years after it was filed,” said Judge Deanne Wilson, who said she knew of nothing matching the case in the New Jersey courts. The judge was highly critical of the conduct of the defendants, a real estate family led by Minnesota Vikings owner Zygmunt “Zygi” Wilf, which she found had misappropriated funds owed to longtime business partners. [Ben Horowitz, Newark Star-Ledger, Minneapolis Star-Tribune and more, Field of Schemes]
Using outdoor recreation as a jumping-off point, Warren Meyer compares construction that genuinely conserves inputs over the long term with the sorts of fussy, maintenance-intensive designs that tend to win architectural sustainability awards, “which generally means they save money on one input at the expense of increasing many others. … I briefly operated a campground that had a rainwater recovery system on the bathrooms, which required about 5 hours of labor each week to keep clean and running to save about a dollar of water costs.”
Back to the gravel walk? A new environmental program pressures populous Maryland counties to levy assessments on property owners based on their square footage of impervious surfaces such as roofs, patios or driveways that prevent rainwater from sinking into the soil [Blair Lee, Gazette; Maryland Reporter; Frederick News-Post; Anne Arundel County]
P.S. While some of the Maryland commentary has treated the idea as new and experimental, thanks to commenters for pointing out that it’s already a familiar part of the scene elsewhere.
In the 1948 case of Shelley v. Kraemer, the U.S. Supreme Court held that racially restrictive real estate covenants, once a common practice, were not enforceable in court. Since then old covenants of that sort in title deeds have been a dead letter, but court clerks continue to copy them over as part of the historical transcription of title language that occurs in many real estate transactions. Now a couple described anonymously as John and Jane Doe, represented by attorney Zachary Gottesman of Cincinnati, have been suing county recorders around the state of Ohio asking for “an injunction requiring recorders to ‘sequester’ the offensive documents or, for those documents that have to be published, to redact the racially-offensive portions. They also ask for their attorney fees to be paid, punitive damages and any other relief the court deems just.” A lawyer representing the county clerks says they are legally obligated to copy, transcribe or otherwise make available the deeds as they find them, and that the anonymous filing of the lawsuit is improper. “Defendants,” argues the brief on their behalf, “cannot be held liable … in the same way a library or museum cannot be held liable for hate speech for maintaining a display of offensive historical documents,” he wrote. Please, don’t give the plaintiffs ideas for more suits. [Zanesville Times Recorder]
“California Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, has introduced a bill to make it illegal for people to smoke in their own homes — if they live in an apartment or a condo or a multifamily home.” [Debra Saunders, syndicated/RealClearPolitics]
In Fairfax County, Va., outside Washington, a court-ordered trustee has ordered the sale of the Olde Belhaven association’s “pleasant square, with its trees and benches, [which] had in better times been the site of community picnics and Christmas festivities.” The association was put on the road to ruin by a dispute that began over a complaint that a sign in a homeowner’s yard was 4 inches too high. It escalated into costly litigation, and “as the case ground on, the HOA increased dues from $650 a year to about $3,500, mostly to cover legal fees.” Courts sided with the dissident homeowners, and hundreds of thousands in legal costs sank the association’s finances. [Washington Post]