Property Rights Under Attack

History has many lessons for those invested in property. The 'rights' we think we have are more vulnerable than many suspect.

Property Rights Under Attack

Eight centuries ago, King John of England was forced by his subjects to sign the Magna Carta. He was considered to have broken ancient laws and customs that had been a hallmark of the governance of England.

The Magna Carta was essentially a charter of human rights and is considered one of the most important legal documents in the world.

One of the tenets it contains is the right of all free citizens to own and inherit property. Since then, 'property rights' have been an important part of every free society.

Regrettably, these ancient rights are under assault from various groups almost always linked to government.

We have increasingly complex and restrictive zoning and development regulations. Mandated green tape strangles property owners with complex environmental laws and black tape has given rise to all sorts of spurious claims.

Government directly levies an assortment of fees and charges simply for 'owning' the land. If you don't pay they can take it from you. This suggests you don't actually own the land but are merely leasing it; and paying a hefty upfront cost for the privilege!

More recently, property owners were told they couldn't evict tenants who refused to pay the agreed rent. Owners couldn't even obtain a judgement to protect their legal rights thanks to government decree.

This week, a New York court even went so far as to order a property owner to pay $6.7 million in compensation to street artists for painting over their murals on a building he owned!

The 'art' that cost one building owner $6.7 million

Just think about that for a moment.

This man purchased a building and gave permission for some spray paint artists to use it as a canvas while it was empty (I have actually done this with a building I own).

Every one involved knew it was a temporary arrangement.

Years later, the owner wants to redevelop the site and starts by cleaning up the exterior of the building.  That puts you in violation of the 'Visual Artists Rights Act' because 'they could have taken steps to have better photographed and videotaped the art, they could have preserved the art'.

That's right, $6.7 million in compensation because the artists didn't take enough photo's of the paint they put on someone else's building!

To me this is plain bonkers and it suggests that one of the most important pillars of the free enterprise system is under assault.

History demonstrates we have been here before and the likely direction we will head.

In ancient Rome, as the empire continued to expand and demands on the government treasury increased, a variety of new taxes and charges were levied on property owners.

The logic for doing so was quite simple.

Property couldn't be removed or secreted away like a cache of gold or silver. It was non-transportable wealth and seen as an easy target. It resulted in many simply abandoning their property as they could no longer afford to pay and there were few purchasers.

Farmers walked off the land for the more lucrative pastime of living on the public purse. One historian notes that "“those who lived off the treasury were more numerous than those paying into it.”

Does that sound familiar? It should because it is true in Australia today.

Taxation, fees, charges, levies and the abandonment of key tenets were catalysts for the fall of the Roman Empire.

The same fate will befall the West if we continue down the current path.

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