Property Rights

Cedar Hills Assumes Control of All Rental Properties

In a recent letter to property owners who rent out their property, the city of Cedar Hills, Utah announced a new ordinance (Title 3-Chapter 1-Article H:Rental Dwelling Unit) that requires these individuals to seek the permission of the city government if they wish to “legally rent out a residence in the city of Cedar Hills.” The ordinance requires the property owner to submit a Rental Property Business License Application, pay an annual fee ($65 for the first property and $25 for each additional property) and be subject to an “ordinance compliance review.”

This ordinance violates the fundamental principles of private property rights. Property rights require that an owner may do with their property as they please, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of other individuals. If a city requires certain conditions be met (that are not related to an existing or imminent violation of other individuals’ rights) in order for an owner to rent out their property, then clearly the city purports to possess the authority to prohibit the owner from renting out their property. If the city assumes this right, then clearly the owner does not have the right to rent out their property, but may do so only with the consent of the city.  In this case, there are no private property rights with respect to renting out the property, but rather a city-granted privilege bestowed upon whomever they deem fit, based on whatever arbitrary criteria they choose.

The application, the fee, and the inspection may seem very reasonable to some, but if the city can require a $65 fee, then presumably it could require a $650 fee or a $6,500 fee.  Not many would deem a $6,500 annual fee as reasonable, but if one concedes that the city can determine whether or not to require a fee at all, as well as determining what the fee should be, then they have likewise conceded that the city could charge $6,500 if it decides to do so. In other words, they would deem the $6,500 as unreasonable, but they would concede that the city is perfectly within its authority to require the fee. It follows, of course, that the city could charge any amount they choose, and that in all reality they could charge a fee that made it financially prohibitive for any property owner to rent out their property. If this is true, then the city, and not the property owner, can decide whether or not the property can be rented out.

According to the document, the inspection is to ensure compliance with “landscaping and other nuisance violations…”  In other words, the city is selectively discriminating against property owners that choose to rent their property out. The landscaping and nuisance ordinances would presumably apply to any property owner, but it becomes obvious that the city is carrying out special inspections against certain property owners for arbitrary reasons. The landscaping and nuisance ordinances should also be challenged as a violation of private property rights, but if the city is enforcing them, then the basic principles of justice would demand that they treat all property owners the same with respect to the ordinances.

To make matters worse, the city has exempted certain property owners from the requirements.  Part D of 3-1H-3 exempts “a rental dwelling unit which is ordinarily owner occupied but is temporarily rented because: 1. The owner is placed in the hospital, nursing home, assisted living center, or similar facility, or 2. The owner has a bona fide, temporary absence of three (3) years or less for activity such as temporary job assignments, sabbaticals, or voluntary service. Indefinite periods of absence from the dwelling shall not qualify for this exemption.”

Reminiscent of the USSR, and in fact current US legislated statutory laws, once government starts to treat individuals differently and impose burdens for arbitrary reasons, special interest groups are given exemptions.  Apparently it makes sense to enforce special inspections and assess special fees to property owners who choose to rent their house out for their own, private reasons, or for periods exceeding three years, but if they claim those reasons fall into certain arbitrary categories or the period falls short of three years,  the fees and inspections are no longer necessary.  This situation demonstrates the arbitrary nature of government interference in private affairs.

In Karl Marx’s 1848 work The Communist Manifesto, he argued that “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”  Neither the city council of Cedar Hills nor its voters are communists, I presume, but this new ordinance moves the city further away from a position of liberty and toward one in which government regulates, and thus controls, the lives and property of its citizens.  The ordinance effectively strips private property owners of their right to rent out their property, and transfers the right to make decisions about whether or not to rent out a property to the city.

We have promoted the importance of private property rights in previous posts, and echo again the words of John Locke:  “The great and chief end therefore, of mens uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.” Cedar Hill’s ordinance violates this “chief end” and should therefore be abolished.