Property Rights Matter When IJ Comes to Town
For more than 30 years, IJ has repeatedly seen how creative government can be at undermining property rights. But “amortization”—where the government bans a safe, preexisting use of property without compensation to the property owner—is particularly pernicious. That’s why IJ has teamed up with two South Carolina entrepreneurs to end this unconstitutional practice in the Palmetto State and beyond.
In 2013, Jeremy Sark opened his automotive repair business, Sark’s Automotive, on North Main Street in Mauldin, South Carolina. Within a year, he opened a U-Haul franchise overseen by his general manager, Marie Dougherty, and he has been renting more and more U-Hauls ever since. But last year the City Council amended Mauldin’s zoning ordinance to close all truck rental businesses inside the zone where Sark’s Automotive is located by the end of 2022.
Losing the U-Haul franchise has real ramifications for Jeremy, Marie, and their employees—the company’s U-Haul revenue was over $50,000 last year and has grown every year, and it gets additional revenue from repairing the vehicles of former U-Haul customers and the U-Haul vehicles themselves. Overall, Jeremy and Marie estimate that losing the U-Haul business will force them to lay off up to two full-time employees.
Ordinarily, safe preexisting uses of property are allowed to continue indefinitely following changes to a zoning code. But under amortization, the government puts a time limit on the preexisting use. The theory is that by allowing property owners a little extra time to continue exercising their rights, the government can avoid making the zoning change a “taking” for which the government would owe “just compensation.” But that theory flies in the face of the IJ-led post-Kelo reforms that states like South Carolina enacted to prevent governments from using property regulations to shut down disfavored businesses.
Driving the city’s vendetta is its irrational belief that U-Haul businesses are impeding development. A couple years ago, after a decade of failed projects with different developers, the city started working with another developer on a new plan for a multiuse development downtown. Anticipating growth, the city overhauled its zoning ordinance and specifically targeted moving truck rentals for elimination—grandfathering in all other existing businesses that would become nonconforming. The mayor of Mauldin explicitly stated that the ordinance targeting U-Hauls was passed to “clean up” Main Street because “developers and potential investors” said U-Hauls made Main Street look “old.”
After Jeremy and Marie’s efforts to talk to city officials failed, IJ filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the ordinance’s constitutionality. And the lawsuit has already gotten results: The City Council has agreed to stay enforcement of the U-Haul ordinance during the litigation and says it is considering repealing the ordinance altogether. Whether or not Jeremy and Marie’s case reaches a swift resolution, you can be sure that IJ will continue to fight to end the abusive practice of amortization wherever it is found. u
Seth Young is an IJ Law & Liberty Fellow.
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