MAULDIN, S.C.—For nearly a decade, Jeremy Sark rented U-Haul trucks and trailers from his automotive business in Mauldin, South Carolina. That part of the business, run today with his partner Marie Dougherty, was going to be illegal in the new year due to Mauldin’s zoning code. However, after Jeremy filed a lawsuit with the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national non-profit law firm that defends property rights and economic liberty, the city council voted to change its zoning code last night to allow Jeremy and Marie’s rental business to continue.
“Just days before Sark’s Automotive might have been forced to lay off employees, the city of Mauldin chose not to be grinches who steal jobs,” said IJ Attorney Seth Young. “Jeremy and Marie’s business was no threat to Mauldin’s future development. It’s hard enough to be a small business owner without cities changing the rules.”
“We’re relieved that this important part of our business will continue next year,” said Jeremy. “What the city tried to do wasn’t right and it would have hurt our employees, customers and people who move to and from Mauldin.”
For years, Mauldin 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 U-Haul trucks and trailers. City leaders agreed. So, as part of a broad overhaul to the city’s zoning laws, the city council had prohibited the “sale and rental of moving trucks [and] trailers” in all zones but one, effective December 31, 2022.
Banning a landowner or business owner’s property use while giving them time to wind up is called “amortization.” Cities resort to amortization to avoid having to compensate citizens for taking their property use, on the theory that the landholder has a reasonable time—in the government’s view—to recoup their investment in the property. But cities are supposed to grandfather in safe uses of property that preexist a zoning change. And, in Jeremy and Marie’s case, operating for one more year would fall far short of compensating them for the loss of the U-Haul business because they planned to continue renting them indefinitely. As of yesterday, because the city council repealed its amortization ordinance, Jeremy and Marie are free to do just that.
“Amortization pulls the rug out on property and business owners,” said IJ Attorney Bob Belden. “We hope that other South Carolina cities won’t follow Mauldin’s lead by even trying to use amortization to deprive people of safe, reasonable property uses. But if they do, we’ll be ready to defend the constitutional rights of whoever is ready to stand up to government abuse.”
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 is defending 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.