GREENVILLE, S.C.—Nearly a decade ago, Jeremy Sark opened an automotive repair business on North Main Street in Mauldin, South Carolina, which he and his partner, Marie Dougherty, still run today. From the beginning, they have rented U-Haul trucks and trailers to people moving across town or across the country and welcomed new Mauldin residents dropping off U-Haul trucks and trailers. The rentals are an important part of their business, but the city has decided that rental trucks are unsightly. At the end of the year, it will be illegal for Sark’s to continue renting U-Hauls where it has been for more than nine years.
In anticipation of hoped-for downtown development by a private developer, the city reworked much of its zoning code. All existing businesses at the time of the rezoning were grandfathered into the new code except one: moving truck rentals. The city cannot prohibit someone from continuing a safe, reasonable use of their private property, especially not to benefit private developers. Jeremy and Marie have joined up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to sue the city of Mauldin for violating their rights under the South Carolina Constitution.
“Jeremy and Marie are living the American Dream, but city officials don’t like how that dream looks,” said IJ Attorney Bob Belden. “The city thinks it is ‘compensating’ Jeremy and Marie by letting them rent U-Hauls until the end of the year, even though they want to keep renting them indefinitely. That is an absurd and dangerous argument that threatens property rights in general.”
Small-town Mauldin has big-city plans. For years, city officials have worked with a string of developers on plans to give downtown a makeover. At one point, a developer expressed distaste for the look of moving truck rentals. City leaders agreed. So, as part of a broad overhaul to the city’s zoning laws, the City Council prohibited the “sale and rental of moving trucks [and] trailers” in all zones but one, effective December 31, 2022.
Banning a land-use while giving existing uses a period of time to wind up is called “amortization.” Cities resort to amortization to avoid having to compensate property owners for taking their land-use or business, on the theory that the property owner has a reasonable time—in the government’s view—to recoup their investment in the property.
But operating for one more year falls far short of compensating Jeremy and Marie for what they will lose if the U-Haul rentals are taken away, especially in light of the fact that Jeremy and Marie would have continued renting them indefinitely. The revenue from that part of their business is approximately $50,000 a year and losing it will mean having to lay-off at least one employee, and maybe two. They will also lose the work they currently do repairing U-Haul trucks and trailers, as well as the benefits that come from people finding out about their businesses when they rent or drop-off U-Haul trucks after moving to Mauldin.
“The city will do real damage to our business and put people out of work if they eliminate U-Haul rentals,” said Jeremy. “We’ve invested a lot in Mauldin over the years, turning an empty store into a thriving business. It’s disappointing that the city is prioritizing the opinion of private developers over people working to build up the community.”
The Institute for Justice defends property rights nationwide and successfully defended Wilmington, North Carolina homeowners from an amortization that tried to take away their right to rent their home. IJ recently defended a mechanic whose city tried to force him to create dozens of new parking spaces for his one-man shop and a home day care owner who was threatened with fines by her Texas city.
“Giving you a reprieve for a couple more years doesn’t make it okay for the government to stop the legal, safe use of your property,” said IJ Attorney Seth Young. “If Mauldin is allowed to do this to the Jeremy and Marie, other cities will certainly try the same scheme against all sorts of disfavored businesses. Courts should put a stop to this before more small business owners and homeowners find themselves in the same situation.”