(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 20, No. 13 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)
QUESTION: I am a homeowner in a low-income neighborhood. I work hard to keep my property up, and my yard is beautiful. I am enraged by people who leave tires and garbage cans in front of their houses, don’t cut the grass, and scatter their garbage all over the street. They do not have the right to denigrate my quality of life.
How do I reconcile my libertarianism with the fact that I call the city on these offenders and advocate stricter laws regarding how one keeps the outside appearance of his property?
MY SHORT ANSWER: In a libertarian society, when builders created a subdivision, they might choose to put deed restrictions on the homes. Prospective owners would need to accept these as a condition of purchase. Alternatively, property owners’ associations might be put in place with a starting set of restrictions, to be modified in time by the buyers into the subdivision. Such restrictions could include standards of upkeep. People who desired a well-kept neighborhood would likely buy in such communities.
People who would rather not be restricted would buy in communities or other areas where such standards were minimal or non-existent. In this way, everyone’s preference would be honored. Everyone wins!
Today, however, standards — even zoning — can fluctuate overnight with changes in city councils, zoning boards, or inspectors. Sometimes these standards are selectively enforced (e.g., a neighbor has to complain before action is taken). Buyers don’t always know what they are getting into and understandably become resentful when their neighbors use government to restrict them. Thus, unfortunately, today win-win solutions to these problems are rare.
Learn More: Liberator Online editor James W. Harris suggests the following articles for further reading on this topic:
- “How Zoning Rules Would Work in a Free Society” by Ben O’Neill, Mises Institute, June 17, 2009. This short article shows what’s wrong with zoning, and why market alternatives are better and fairer.
Excerpt: “Contrary to the alleged necessity of zoning laws, there is ample scope for non-coercive solutions to zoning issues in the context of a free society of private-property ownership and nonaggression. In particular, private ownership of property allows for restrictive covenants to be agreed between the property owner and another party so that the allowable uses of land are limited according to the wishes of the parties. It follows that property owners within a given neighborhood may contractually agree to impose restrictions on themselves with respect to the allowable developments on their land or the allowable uses of their property.”
- “Zoning Laws Destroy Communities” by Troy Camplin, Mises Institute, April 30, 2010. This short article discusses problems with zoning, including huge unintentional consequences that subvert zoning’s alleged goals of fostering and preserving communities.Excerpt: “Zoning laws are a violation of property rights. They destroy the sense of community in neighborhoods, increase crime, increase traffic congestion, contribute to urban and suburban air pollution, contribute to poverty, contribute to reliance on government — and, thus, reduce self-reliance — and contribute to the ruin of our schools. Most of our urban and suburban problems arose with zoning and other anti-property laws, to which welfare programs and public housing projects have contributed…”