Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · May 13, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—America has growing pains. Young families find themselves locked out of an increasingly expensive housing market. With a single crisis, low-income Americans can find themselves homeless. Entrepreneurs and those engaged in charitable works struggle to find affordable space to turn their ideas into reality. A common thread underlying these crises are the arbitrary lines of zoning codes; hardened rules that too often stand between people and their plans to use their property productively.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) has long protected property rights and has increasingly challenged zoning regulations that keep property owners from using their land to improve their lives and their communities. To unite this work and further enhance our litigation and legislative efforts, IJ announced today its new Zoning Justice Project.

“All over America, people are trying to tackle the big problems facing our nation by using their property creatively, but too often they are told they can’t do that because of zoning restrictions,” said Ari Bargil, IJ Senior Attorney and leader of the Zoning Justice Project. “Whether a property owner wants to house the homeless or their own grandmother, they must navigate a labyrinth of unreasonable rules. The Zoning Justice Project exists to show that strong protections for property rights can empower Americans to create flourishing neighborhoods.”

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IJ’s approach to fighting abusive zoning is reflected in a recent amicus brief IJ filed in the Montana Supreme Court in support of sweeping legislative reforms that would clear the way for building more housing. Those reforms, heralded as some of the best in the nation, were enjoined after a group of community members sued to stop them from taking effect. In sum, the plaintiffs there argued that they have a constitutional right to keep in place the existing zoning laws—those that historically made it illegal for people to add even the most modest additional housing within an existing single-family neighborhood. But the constitution cannot be invoked to smother the property rights of others.

IJ is currently representing property owners fighting zoning laws that require new homes to be sufficiently large, that ban homes on wheels or RVs, and that require extraneous fees for any home expansion. Other cases protect creative property uses such as a home recording studio, an animal sanctuary, and an innovative green cemetery. IJ has also defended property owners when cities have changed zoning, making a functioning business illegal.

In addition to litigation, IJ will also promote sensible legislative reform at the state and local level and educate the public on the importance of injecting property-rights focused considerations into the zoning discussion. Through this multifaceted approach, IJ’s Zoning Justice Project will protect and promote the freedom not just to possess property, but as the Founders intended, to use it peacefully and productively as well.

“Human creativity is boundless, but zoning often makes it impossible for property owners to think outside the box,” said Scott Bullock, IJ President and Chief Counsel. “IJ is dedicated to protecting property rights and that includes the right to use one’s property freely.”