Saturday, June 25, 2005

BBC: 160k price for laundry 'house'
Coming soon to California...laundry houses.
A former laundry room and kitchen could be turned into an 8ft wide one- bedroomed townhouse worth £160,000 if its owner gets the go-ahead.
Vicksburg attorney indicted in drive-by shooting - The Clarion-Ledger
Now, there's a headline you don't see every day.
Watley Review: New York City Invokes Eminent Domain to Acquire New Jersey

I told you the Kelo decision would have bad repurcussions.

Buoyed by the Supreme Court's decision to expand cities' power of eminent domain, New York City filed today to acquire the state of New Jersey for commercial development. "New York has been facing some very difficult economic decisions," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Building viable economic development strategies for the city has been our number one priority. We think that the Supreme Court decision really opens a door for us, and will allow New York City to finally resolve some of these intractable issues."

BBC NEWS | UK | Wales | Island fort for sale at 150,000 pounds

If I were interested in moving to a gated community--I said if--this would be the one.

If you are struggling to get on the property ladder in the UK, how about buying a fort just off the coast? Stack Rock Fort, about 800 yards off the west Wales coast near Milford Haven, is for sale for £150,000. The 19th Century fort - complete with a couple of cannons - dates back from the time of Napoleon, when it was initially built as a defence for the river Haven. But it has nowhere to sleep at present, and the new owner will have to sort out sewage, water and power.

Friday, June 24, 2005

George Will gets off the best pithy summary of Kelo...
The question answered yesterday was: Can government profit by seizing the property of people of modest means and giving it to wealthy people who can pay more taxes than can be extracted from the original owners? The court answered yes.
And that's what it comes down to. Your municipality can force you and your neighbors out of your own homes and replace your entire neighborhood with yuppie townhomes and condos in order to increase property tax revenues.
TCS: Tech Central Station - They Can't Take That Away From Me... Unless They Can
A great article on Kelo and eminent domain, from law professor Stephen Bainbridge. Here's a great line:

After news of Napoleon's victory in the Battle of Austerlitz was conveyed to British Prime Minister William Pitt, Pitt pointed to a map of Europe and said: "Roll up the map; it will not be wanted these ten years." In light of the Supreme Court's decision to side with New London, we might just as well roll up the Takings Clause of the Bill of Rights, because we won't need it any longer.

Eminent Domain Watch
That's a blog about eminent domain, with lots of reactions to the Kelo decision.
Wall Street Journal on Kelo
This is an excellent explanation of the decision, the dissents by O'Connor and Thomas, and why developers who are cozy with local governments now have free reign to profit by snatching your land. Market price now goes out the window. Owners of valuable property will be low-balled by well-connected developers who can now threaten to take the property and have a judge set the price. I think this is one of the worst USSC decisions in decades.
Libertarians must be furious. They just saw the USSC hand them their head in Raich v. Gonzales, the medical marijuana case that says there is no practical limit to the commerce clause (see last paragraph of snippet that follows), and now this. I wonder if libertarians can use these cases to make some headway as a third party? What's the point of sticking with the Republicans if you end up with justices like Kennedy, who won't respect limits on government that are actually written into the constitution?

The Supreme Court's "liberal" wing has a reputation in some circles as a guardian of the little guy and a protector of civil liberties. That deserves reconsideration in light of yesterday's decision in Kelo v. City of New London. The Court's four liberals (Justices Stevens, Breyer, Souter and Ginsburg) combined with the protean Anthony Kennedy to rule that local governments have more or less unlimited authority to seize homes and businesses....
So, in just two weeks, the Supreme Court has rendered two major decisions on the limits of government. In Raich v. Gonzales the Court said there are effectively no limits on what the federal government can do using the Commerce Clause as a justification. In Kelo, it's now ruled that there are effectively no limits on the predations of local governments against private property. - Problem Solvers - Attorney General Chastises Davie HOA For Restricting Police Vehicles
Via Fred Pilot and Jan Bergemann, a link to more on the HOA that thinks police cars are bad for property values. Plus, you can vote on it!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A man's home is... somebody else's piggy-bank - Glenn Reynolds -
Read the Instapundit on the horrible Kelo decision. Here's a sample:

I predict that this will be a big political issue, on both the left and the right. For Bush and the Republicans it's a big vulnerability -- if they don't do anything about it, many conservatives will stay home in disgust at the next election. On the other hand, if they do something -- like, say, backing Congressional action to limit takings for private use -- they'll offend wealthy real estate developers, merchants, and influential local populations. They'll be squeezed, and I don't think that "help us confirm our judges to reverse this" will be a sufficient answer, though they'll try to make it one. On the left, it's seen (rightly) as a victory for the hated Wal-Mart, and as a rule whose burden is sure to fall mostly on the poor. (When did a city ever level a rich neighborhood for this sort of thing?) On the other hand, the left isn't big on limits to government power, especially in the economic sphere. It's certainly a hot issue on talk radio and in the blogosphere already. I suspect it'll stay that way through the 2006 elections.

Tampa: Don't feed the birds! They are ingrates. Plus, you aren't allowed to feed them. Or kill them.
Zephryhills, Florida - Some people who live in a subdivision in a Pasco County community are finding out feeding sandhill cranes has some expensive consequences. State fish and wildlife biologists have verified cranes fed by residents have destroyed screened porches, vinyl siding and car door mirrors and finishes. The birds have caused thousands of dollars damage at nearly a dozen homes in the Oak Run subdivision. Wildlife biologists say it is illegal to feed sandhill cranes in Florida...It’s illegal to harass or injure sandhill cranes, punishable by a $5,000 fine and/or five years in prison.

The Volokh Conspiracy - -
Here's a link to an excellent post by Todd Zywicki that explains in simple but very pointed language exactly why today's USSC decision in Kelo v. City of New London is an abomination. How's this paragraph:

Rather than laundering it through the government, why not just skip the government as middleman and let Donald Trump take whatever he wants whenever he wants it, and just write a check for it? Then we could skip the pretense that this is anything but rent-seeking.

Home sales 2nd highest in history; housing prices at all-time high
WASHINGTON (AP) - Sales of existing homes slowed slightly in May but still came in at the second-highest level on record with home prices hitting an all-time high. Sales of previously owned homes and condominiums edged down 0.7 percent last month, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday. The small decline left sales at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 7.13 million units, down only slightly from the 7.18 million sales pace in April, which had been an all time high. Even with the small drop in sales, home prices moved higher, to an all-time record of $207,000 for the median price, the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less. The new report was likely to do little to lessen concerns that the housing market in some parts of the country is caught in the grip of a speculative fever similar to the bubble that was created in the stock market in the late 1990s before prices came crashing back to earth.

Fred Pilot sent me this link to a Cyber Citizens For Justice (CCFJ) post trying to get owner participation at a meeting of Florida's Advisory Council on Condominiums.
Here is a link to the Legal Information Institute, where the full text of the majority and dissenting opinions can be found.
Institute for Justice: Property Rights Cases: New London, CT
The Institute for Justice is a libertarian public interest law firm that represented Paulette Kelo in this case. Here is their take on this major defeat for the property owners rights. Coming on the heels of the San Remo Hotel case handed down June 20, and the Lingle v. Chevron case from May 23, this has been a disastrous few weeks for property rights advocates.

“The Court simply got the law wrong today, and our Constitution and country will suffer as a result,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice. “With today’s ruling, the poor and middle class will be most vulnerable to eminent domain abuse by government and its corporate allies. The 5-4 split and the nearly equal division among state supreme courts shows just how divided the courts really are. This will not be the last word.” “One of the key quotes from the Court to keep in mind today was written by Justice O’Connor,” Bullock said. “Justice O’Connor wrote, ‘Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.’” to posts on housing bubble -
Interest-only loans raise the stakes - 06/13/05
This guy has a nice view from his balcony. Hope he doesn't end up jumping off.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Once a frustrated renter, Chris Economou is now a happy homeowner, enjoying a splendid view of San Francisco and an $80,000 increase in his property's value since he bought the one-bedroom condominium for $435,000 a year ago. He credits his good fortune to an interest-only mortgage, an increasingly popular -- and risky -- loan that enables borrowers to lower their monthly payments enough for several years to afford rapidly escalating home prices in expensive markets like the San Francisco Bay area.

Condo Flip - For Buyers and Sellers of Preconstuction Condos
I read about this website on The Volokh Conspiracy. The headline is "Bubbles are for Bathtubs." It bills itself as "a marketplace for condo flips." My memory of Revelations is a little vague. Is this one of the signs of the Apocalypse? Maybe they should make a movie called "Condo Flip." Then the sequel could be "Condo Flop."

Condo Flip™ lets buyers of preconstruction condos resell or assign those condos to new buyers. Whether you are flipping (selling) or buying, we are preconstruction experts and we've created this site for you!
Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes
The Kelo case has been decided. A huge win for municipalities and well-connected developers, and a major defeat for property owners and property rights advocates. The ruling is 5-4, because Justice Kennedy sided with the liberals (Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Souter).

WASHINGTON -- A divided Supreme Court ruled that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where economic growth conflicts with individual property rights. Thursday's 5-4 ruling represented a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas. As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sewer supervision in Arkansas: Judge pushing for government oversight of decentralized sewers
Nancy Levy sends this interesting story of a judge's efforts to corral private sewer systems in many real estate developments (many probably run by HOAs) under some sort of governmental supervisory umbrella:

County Judge Jerry Hunton has spent this month cultivating his push for governmental involvement in the supervision of decentralized sewer systems installed in Washington County. Hunton initially planted the seed of supervision in May at a Rural Development Authority meeting, at which he proposed the body consider filling a managerial role over the systems. "We need to set up an authority that would oversee these decentralized sewers in unincorporated parts of the county," Hunton said Tuesday. "We simply need an authority that says how they’re going to be managed in the long term, that if there’s a need for replacement parts and replacement fields, to make sure the money is there and generated by that subdivision."

South Norfolk condo project passes ( Online)
Nancy Levy notes that these owners may get "high octane water."

CHESAPEAKE — Despite concerns about school crowding, environmental red flags and project details that were not provided to the council until just before their meeting, the City Council voted to approve a condominium project in a predominantly industrial section of South Norfolk on Tuesday night. Mill Creek Village, a 272-unit project that will sit adjacent to a junkyard, a tow-truck manufacturer and a multi-track rail switching corridor, was approved by a 5-3 vote...A vote on a second development, Portlock Square, a roughly 30-unit project next door, fronting on Bainbridge Boulevard, was delayed late Tuesday after City Engineer Eric Martin said tests on the property detected high enough levels of petroleum products in the soil and groundwater that the results are reportable to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Hollywood moves to seize woman's storefronts so developer can build condos: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
From Nancy Levy comes this story of a big-time municipal land grab, that deals with an issue similar to the Kelo case now before the USSC.

Over the objections of a man who said Hollywood is stealing his family's land to enrich a powerful developer, the City Commission voted Tuesday night to begin eminent-domain proceedings on a small retail building downtown to make way for a $100 million condo project.
Community Associations Institute (CAI): New Membership Structure
Instead of “associations” being members of CAI, volunteer community leaders and homeowners will hold individual memberships as of July 1. Member benefits, including discounts, will be available only to those who hold individual memberships.
As George Starapoli and Fred Pilot point out, this means that CAI no longer has a membership category for "homeowner associations." This reinforces what I (and others) have been saying for many years. CAI is a 501 (c) (6) trade association that represents the interests of lawyers, property managers, and other providers of services to HOAs. It doesn't represent homeowner associations or the owners who live in them. I don't mean that as a negative comment. I think it is a good thing that such a trade association exists, because professionals need specialized training to do this work, and they should seek to represent their interests in the policy process. It is a basic constitutional liberty (freedom of association) guaranteed by the First Amendment. Owners and associations should organize on their own and not expect CAI to serve their needs. However, I have been critical of CAI representatives, such as lobbyists, for claiming to represent owners and associations, which they have done on many occasions while pushing legislation. They don't, they never really did, and it is an impossible conflict of interests for a trade association to also seek to represent consumers of their services. Maybe this new structure moves things closer to toward acknowledging the actual situation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

$90 million home sets US property record
Not bad for a three-bedroom house.
A 40-acre estate in the Hamptons - the Long Island summer retreat of New York's rich and famous, has been sold for $US90 million, a new US record for a residential property.
An Inside Look at Supreme Court Decision-Making

Nancy Levy sends this link to a fascinating glimpse into how the USSC makes up its collective mind on matters of great consequence.
Secret database kept on airline passengers
Congress ordered the Transportation Security Administration not to gather personal information about airline passengers. So, the TSA hired private data brokers to do it for them, and put it in a secret database--which looks like a violation of the Privacy Act of 1974. Another example of using privatization to get around limits on government action?

WASHINGTON -- A federal agency collected extensive personal information about airline passengers although Congress told it not to and it said it wouldn't, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. A Transportation Security Administration contractor used three data brokers to collect detailed information about U.S. citizens who flew on airlines in June 2004 in order to test a terrorist screening program called Secure Flight, according to documents that will be published in the Federal Register this week. The Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits the government from keeping a secret database.

Private space flight--a new project
In an effort to promote space exploration, a private group plans today to launch the first spacecraft to sail in Earth orbit on the solar wind. If successful, the mission will provide scientific proof for a concept that has captivated science fiction for decades - that ships can travel great distances across the heavens under the power of giant solar sails nudged by the faint energy of light itself. The satellite, called Cosmos 1, was built in Russia to the specifications of the Planetary Society, a group based in Pasadena, Calif., that raised almost $4 million for the project.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Chicago Tribune: Christmas in June? Bah, humbug
From Mystery Reader comes this tale of what happens to neighborhoods that don't have HOAs to make you rip down all your holiday decorations on December 26--assuming they let you put them up in the first place.

Summer arrived early this year with a string of steamy days, but in some of Aurora's older neighborhoods it's continuing to look a lot like Christmas. On the roof of a porch on Claim Street, three white reindeer paw at asphalt shingles below icicle lights rimming the second-story roofline. Nearby, at a home on Root Street, a plastic Santa smiles next to a front door festooned with long red ribbons and greetings for a season long since passed. A recent canvass of downtown neighborhoods by 2nd Ward Ald. Juany Garza found as many as 120 homes still decorated for Christmas at a time of year when Frosty the Snowman would become Peter the Puddle in a matter of minutes. Garza left letters asking the residents to take down the decorations by Thursday...The city does not have the authority to force people to take down the decorations, Garza said, so the letter-writing campaign is intended to encourage it. Letters written in English and Spanish explain the out-of-season decorations reflect poorly on the community.
Isabel Victims in Va. Get Unexpected Bills From FEMA
Fred Pilot sent this link that was originally unearthed by Patrick's HOA News. And these are victims of Hurricane Isabel, not my 7 year old daughter. It seems that the condo association made a mistake in purchasing flood insurance from a private carrier instead of FEMA.

When the floodwaters from Hurricane Isabel inundated the Belle View condominium complex in September 2003, causing nearly $6 million in damage, condo owner Stephen Snell had to flee to a nearby motel for two weeks because the water and mold caused him to have serious breathing problems. Nearly two years after the hurricane, Snell, a consultant, said he and dozens of other Belle View residents were "dumbfounded" when they received a collection letter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency last month. The letter demanded repayment of disaster relief money the agency awarded Snell and other residents of the beleaguered condo complex, which sits just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Fairfax County, south of Alexandria. It gave them a 30-day deadline to pay. FEMA recently demanded that about 147 condo owners repay at least part of the funds they were awarded -- a total of about $140,000. The agency said that under condo association bylaws, the federal government should not have to cover some repairs. - News - Masked Men Rob Elderly Couple At Their Casselberry Condo
As Nancy Levy observes, this sort of thing undermines the "security" claims many gated community developers like to make.

Police are searching for two masked men in Casselberry who they say robbed a 70-year-old man inside his own home.According to the Casselberry Police Department, around 8 o'clock Friday morning, two men, wearing dark clothing from head to toe, forced their way into a fifth floor condo unit at Carmel By The Lake. Police say, the man and woman who live in the particular unit are in their 70s. The suspects were hiding in the stairwell when the elderly man opened the door to go to an appointment. They pushed him back inside, shoved the woman to the ground and took an undisclosed amount of jewelry, including the jewelry the victims were wearing. The Carmel By The Lake condos are gated. There's only one way in and one way out.
New Joisey: More on the pending adoption of the Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act
Fred Pilot sends the link to this update...

A bill being considered by the state Senate that would change the way homeowners associations operate received mixed reaction from residents of Rossmoor on Wednesday.
The bill, called the Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act, would create uniform practices in the areas of alternative dispute resolution, bidding and elections.
If approved, the bill will require homeowners association board meetings, including work sessions, to be open to the public, public forums would be required in any meeting where votes are held and elections would have to be tabulated unanimously and run independently.
In addition, executive boards would be required to explain to their constituents why they accepted a bid, however they need not select the lowest bidder.