April 6, 2012
Wiseman on Castles, Tenements, and the Private Governance Divide
Hannah J. Wiseman (Florida State), another of our fabulous former guest-bloggers, has posted Castles, Tenements, and the Private Governance Divide. The abstract:
The revered status of American home ownership has deep and seemingly impenetrable roots. In our modern mythology/reality, the castles that shelter and nurture our pursuit of the good life are under siege. A narrative common to both popular media accounts and a burgeoning property literature warns that private homeowners’ associations hold dominion over millions of Americans, dictating what they may do with their property and foreclosing when they cannot pay association fees or fines In response to this threat, legislatures, courts, and academics are fighting to stave off these intrusions by constraining servitudes. In focusing on the harms to property owners, these critics have unjustifiably omitted a large and growing segment of the population: renters. Nearly every American rents living space at one stage of life, and rentals are expanding as the real estate market continues on its uncertain trajectory. Tenants have no less lofty life goals than do homeowners, yet they, too, are governed by private rules for property use that severely constrain their freedom and allow termination of their property interest through eviction or sale. The rules in rental communities, moreover, serve fundamentally the same purpose as those set by homeowners association controlling neighbors’ uses to increase property value. The key difference between the two types of communities, beyond simple physical layout, lies in tradition: a woman’s home is her castle, but her apartment is her rickety tenement. Even this distinction is vanishing, however, as private communities with now-familiar, “intrusive” rules continue their decades-old proliferation, objections notwithstanding. If, then, private governance of property is fundamentally problematic, it is no less problematic for renters. But if, as seems more likely, we are generally willing to accept certain private rules in communities as a reasonable response to the interests of both owners and tenants, critics of private governance must explain why traditional notions of property should prevail over a modern approach to property consumers’ demands.
Very timely. With the future of American housing patterns in flux, it's really important to discuss the intersection of private-public as well as renting-owning. Hannah has written on related ideas before, and I look forward to reading this piece too.
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