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… in the same way a library or museum cannot be held liable for hate speech for maintaining a display of offensive historical documents,” he wrote.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]
…and how he spends his Unruh Act windfall results in — did you guess? — more legal complications. [Gendy Alimurung, L.A. Weekly via @andrewmgrossman; Nowell's earlier legal battles here and here]
Protectionism for real estate agents [Coyote]:
In legislation that reminds me of stuff from the 1990s when businesses tried to fight Internet-driven disintermediation, Hawaii is proposing to force non-Hawaiians to use a local broker to list their rental properties. Apparently local residents can still list their properties on low-cost Internet sites, but folks on the mainland (also known as “the United States”) must use a high-cost locally licensed broker, who typically charge 50% of rental fees as a commission. … Only by structuring this law to apply to those annoying out-of-staters could it ever be passed.
I’ve been writing more lately on policy issues arising in my adopted state, such as the boat tax and Baltimore’s fight with liquor stores, and you can keep up by following my local Twitter account @walterolsonmd:
- If you think the current federal crusade on disparate minority school discipline rates is unreasonable, check out the Maryland state board of education’s even loopier plans for racial quotas in discipline [Hans Bader and letter, Roger Clegg/Center for Equal Opportunity] “However, there’s no plan for gender balance in school discipline.” [Joanne Jacobs]
- After the state’s high court stigmatized pit bulls as distinctively dangerous, the state legislature has (as warned of in this space) reacted by extending liability to owners of all dogs, “first bite” or not [WaPo] “The trial lawyer’s expert just testified he sees dogs as a man or woman’s ego on the end of a leash.” [Mike Smigiel]
- A Washington Post article asks: “Is the ‘nanny state’ in Montgomery working?” (No, but it makes councilors in the affluent liberal redoubt feel good about themselves.) And even in Montgomery, councilman George Leventhal (D-At Large) spots a Laffer Curve [Dan Mitchell, Cato at Liberty]
- Also in Montgomery, county slates vote next month on union-backed bill to require service contractors to take over employment of displaced workers for 90 days [Gazette] Leventhal is caustic: “I do not only work for SEIU 32BJ. My colleagues may feel they do.” [Rachel Baye, Examiner]
- Despite its solicitude for the SEIU, the county’s concern for low-income workers has its limits, as when property owners seek to increase the stock of affordable housing near jobs by dividing one-family residences into two-family [Ben Ross, Greater Greater Washington]
- “Doctors, hospitals concerned about hefty malpractice awards” [Baltimore Sun]
- MD public pension planners whistle through graveyard [Hayley Peterson, Washington Examiner, Tom Coale/HoCoRising, Ivan Osorio, CEI "Open Market"] The state still hasn’t shaken its AAA bond rating, but Annapolis lawmakers are working to change that by unionizing more state workers [Washington Times]
New York City gets away with landmarking all sorts of properties no one would ordinarily consider to be of architectural or historic distinction. It’s almost as if the city’s using the law as a generalized development control or something [Annie Karni, NY Post via Ira Stoll]
A Bronx nonprofit that’s gotten $240,000 from taxpayers teaches followers how to squat in city buildings. “It’s breaking and entering for dummies.” [NYPost]
A British Columbia court has allowed a suit to proceed arguing that a government lending program which included inspection of the property to be renovated could incur a duty to third persons who might later fall on a staircase whose faults allegedly would have been detected had inspection not been negligent. [Erik Magraken; Benoit v. Banfield]
“A 2-story Whole Foods on an empty lot in the heart of brownstone Brooklyn should not take 8 yrs to (maybe) get permits” [@MarketUrbanism on NYT coverage]
“A Las Vegas lawyer who once ran a courthouse restaurant has pleaded guilty in a scheme to take $3,000 in kickbacks to rig two condo board elections in Nevada.” The takeover of the condo boards, advanced by methods that included stuffing ballot boxes with fake ballots, made it possible to bring in a favored law firm to file construction-defect suits. “Federal prosecutors claim conspirators used straw buyers to buy properties in about a dozen condo communities from 2003 to 2009 and helped them win control of condo boards, AP says.” A wider investigation continues whose targets allegedly include judges. [ABA Journal]
Gordon Crovitz at the WSJ tells how muddled property rights, combined with the dependence of real estate developers on the good will of New York’s City Council, have resulted in the continuing occupation of Zuccotti Park.