Thursday, June 7, 2007

Property Rights

I have heard this brought up since I started paying attention to the teardowns in my area ... trying to control teardowns is a violation of private property rights. Is it?

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states in part "... nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." Those few words express one of the most important rights enjoyed by Americans. It enhances our freedom, gives us security, helps protect our personal financial investments. But it is not absolute. Rights are - and always have been - tempered by responsibilities.

The Fifth Amendment does not give owners the right to use their property in a way that harms the rights or welfare of others. Indeed, restrictions on land use - such as zoning laws, for instance - were first created to protect owners' rights and property values against the potentially harmful actions of other owners. The value of a parcel of land derives in part from the improvements made by its owner, of course - but it also derives from public improvements paid for by the community as a whole - and from the labor, investments and good stewardship of neighboring owners.

What I said a moment ago is worth repeating: Rights are tempered by reponsibilities. We all should be able to enjoy an attractive, livable environment - and we all have a responsibility to ensure that our actions don't prevent our neighbors from doing just that.

-- Richard Moe, National Trust for Historic Preservation

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