The right to own and use private property is a cornerstone of a free society. But rather than respect these rights, many local governments are continually crafting new ways to intrude into the homes and businesses of ordinary Americans. The Institute for Justice stands at the forefront to spot and counter these new threats to private property.

Rental Inspections

Under rental inspection programs found in many cities nationwide, government agents can rummage through a renter’s home without their consent or even any allegations that they’ve done something wrong. Unlike a proper warrant based on probable cause and individualized suspicion, rental inspectors can instead obtain an “administrative” warrant to perform their searches—a warrant in name only. In other words, thanks to rental inspection programs, it’s easier for the government to snoop on law-abiding citizens than the homes of suspected criminals.  

Click here for more information about IJ’s Rental Inspections work.

Fines and Fees

Across the country, governments at every level are looking to pad their coffers by raising money on the backs of their citizens. In addition to traditional revenue streams, governments have devised a wide array of mechanisms designed to generate cash across every branch of government. Agencies at the federal and state level often impose ruinous fines against individuals and small business, while the courts routinely charge hefty fines and fees simply for appearing in court—especially if you lose. The goal of these financial penalties is typically to raise money for the entities imposing them to begin with.

The same issues arise at the local level. As one example, many local governments have turned to code violations as a way to raise revenue. Because local governments often keep the revenue from fines and fees, they have a strong incentive to keep issuing tickets based on even the most petty violations. Rather than protecting and serving the public, municipal governments are treating their residents as little more than ATMs.

Click here for more information about IJ’s Fines and Fees work.

Zoning and Affordable Housing

All Americans should have the right to live in peace and do what they please with their own property, provided that they do not infringe on the rights of others. Unfortunately, many zoning ordinances have become incredibly intrusive. Severe restrictions can block entrepreneurs from setting up home-based businesses or prohibit them from operating in approved locales without first having to comply with arbitrary parking and aesthetic requirements. Especially meddlesome zoning laws may even criminalize the most trivial acts—like growing vegetables in your front yard.  

Zoning also plays a huge role in where we can (or cannot) build and live. By design, zoning uses arbitrary map lines to create exclusivity—making it acutely responsible for the current housing crisis. That is because many zoning regulations severely restrict what types of housing can be built and where, often at the behest of current property owners who view additional housing as a threat. But it is not the role of government to restrict the housing supply to inflate existing homeowners’ property values. Nor should government be making it harder to create and provide something that everyone needs—a place to live.

IJ is working to advance a rule of law under which people are free and able to create and offer places for others to live, recreate, and transact.

Click here for more information about IJ’s Zoning and Housing Affordability work.

Other Property Rights Abuses Cases

Virginia food truck owners file federal lawsuit after raging town councilmember damaged truck, town council repeatedly harassed them

Theslet Benoir and Clemene Bastien are a married couple that immigrated to the United States from Haiti in 2005. They received asylum, settled in Parksley, Virginia, and opened a brick-and-mortar store that caters to the needs of the Eastern Shore’s Haitian population. But the town repeatedly harassed them, so they teamed up with IJ to file a federal lawsuit.

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