Saturday, February 19, 2011
It is perhaps not surprising to many of us that landowners don't understand the encumberances on their land. If someone has never heard the term "conservation easement" before, it's not surprising that they don't understand what it means when they see it with their deed. One would hope, however, that you would find out before buying the property.
An article in yesterday's Washington Post gives examples of landowners who are uninformed about the nature of the restrictions on their land. Although the Post writer doesn't place blame, the official at the County Planning Office quoted in the article is not hesitant about pointing the finger at real estate agents.
Although this article doesn't present heartening news for the land conservation community, I was glad to see this in print. I have been hearing stories like this from landowners for a few years now (folks who just didn't realize there were encumberances on their land). While our land recording systems appear to ensure landowners will get notice of the restrictions on their land, we see that it doesn't always happen. This article highlights that such notice may not be meaningful if purchasers don't understand the deeds they are reading.
Not sure what the answer is to concerns like this. Fewer deed restrictions perhaps, but that is not very satisfying. We could require real estate agents to clearly explain all the provisions in a deed, but it doesn't look like it would have helped here. The couple that the story focuses on read and signed the conservation easement indicating that they had reviewed it. Looks like this couple may turn to the courts for relief. Hope their lawyer is better than their real estate agent.
UPDATE ON 02/21:
The Washington Post has added (or maybe it was there all along but I didn't see it) a great graphic showing where the conserevation easement was. This case has sparked an interesting debate in the land conservation community about the appropriateness of protecting backyards in this way.
- Jessica Owley
Friday, February 18, 2011
Those of us who study conservation easements don't have a wealth of case law to debate and scrutinize (query whether that is a bad or good thing). So perhaps it is understandable that we get excitable when there is even a hint of litigation. According to a local newspaper, a couple in Pennsylvania has just sued a local land trust for failing to enforce a conservation easement. In this case, the landowner allegedly violated the conservation easement by clearing woodlands, building a stable, and keeping horses. The plaintiffs claim that the land trust has not adequately enforced the conservation easement.
There are several interesting issues here including two big ones:
(1) Who has standing to bring challenges regarding enforcement of a conservation easement? Here, the plaintiffs own adjoining land. Could the township intervene?
(2) what are a land trusts' enforcement obligations? Did create of the conservation easement create a charitable trust? Can they choose not to enforce a conservation easement? How much discretion do land trusts have in negotiating settlements or conservation easement amendments?
I'm sure the land trust community will be watching this one closely.
- Jessica Owley
Bill Callison (Faegre & Benson, LLP; also ABA Forum on Aff. Housing and Comm. Dev. Law) has posted Achieving Our Country: Geographic Desegregation and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, 19 S. Cal. Rev. L. & Soc. Just. 213 (2010). Here's the abstract:
This Article, which blends educational policy, housing policy, and tax policy, argues that one path down the precipice of racial inequality is to reverse a path that led us to where this problem began; namely, the racial segregation of the places where we live. This Article examines the country’s most important subsidy for creating affordable housing, the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (“LIHTC”), and considers whether the tax credit program has served as a tool for desegregating metropolitan neighborhoods. After concluding that the LIHTC program has not been an effective tool for reducing or eliminating continuing patterns of racial segregation and poverty concentration, this Article proposes numerous programmatic changes that could allow the tax credit program to promote greater geographic desegregation. Others have considered the impact of fair-housing laws on the LIHTC program. This Article contributes to that literature by going beyond fair housing to examine both the “cooperative federalism” concepts embedded in the program and the economic structure of tax credits, and by making practical suggestions on how the program can be improved to obtain racial integration. It takes a two-prong approach: First, this Article encourages more robust national guidance in order to encourage states to use credits to foster desegregation. Second, this Article considers changes to the economic structure of the program to provide incentives to developers and investors who undertake to provide affordable housing that results in desegregation.
February 18, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Development, Housing, HUD, Inclusionary Zoning, Land Trust, Landlord-Tenant, NIMBY, Planning, Race, Scholarship, Smart Growth | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, February 17, 2011
As some of you may know, I am obsessed with intrigued by conservation easements. A strong motivator for some conservation easements (but not all or even necessarily most) is the availability of federal income tax deductions. A current bill in the senate would make such donations even more alluring.
- Jessica Owley
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Kermit Lind just alerted me to a case the rest of you are probably already following, Connecticut vs. American Electric Power. Following is a synopsis from the Climate Change and Clean Technology Blog.
On December 6, 2010, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, a federal nuisance case on appeal from the Second Circuit. Plaintiffs -- eight states, the City of New York and three non-profit land trusts -- seek abatement and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from defendants, who include some of the United States’ largest electric utility companies. The Second Circuit ruled that: (1) the case did not present a non-justiciable political question, (2) the plaintiffs have standing, (3) the plaintiffs stated claims under the federal common law of nuisance, (4) the plaintiffs' claims are not displaced by the Clean Air Act ("CAA"), and, finally, (5) the Tennessee Valley Authority (“TVA”), a quasi-governmental defendant, is not immune from the suit. See Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co., 582 F.3d 309 (2nd Cir. 2009).
This is a case to watch out for during this Supreme Court term.
Read more here.
Jamie Baker Roskie
January 18, 2011 in Climate, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Industrial Regulation, Land Trust, Local Government, New York, Nuisance, Property Rights, State Government, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
News from Kermit Lind at Cleveland State:
The Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization rescued more than 72 houses on Cleveland's west side. It and other neighborhood-based nonprofit clients of the UDLC have been leaders in this effort for several years. The nonprofit Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation is raising the capacity for recycling housing all over the county.
Students in clinical practice are providing legal services to facilitate these transactions and the rehabilitation work. They also participate in the development and advocacy of public policies and programs needed to stem the tide of abandonment and nuisance conditions that threaten the beneficial results of the good work described in the news report.
Here is a link to the report.
Thanks for the update, Kermit!
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, December 31, 2010
We are very glad to announce that Prof. James J. Kelly, Jr. is joining us as an Editor of the Land Use Prof Blog. Jim has been an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Community Development Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law. In the Spring of 2011, he will be a Visiting Professor at Washington & Lee. I'm also pleased to announce that Jim has accepted a permanent position beginning in the Fall of 2011 as a Clinical Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School, where he will direct a new community development project. I'm really glad to see that Notre Dame will be bringing Jim on board--to the campus where his now brother-in-law was my freshman roomate back in 1991 (small world dept.).
Jim is an expert in community development law and practice, and has written extensively on the topic of land trusts for affordable housing: see his pieces Homes Affordable for Good and Land Trusts that Conserve Communities. He went to UVa and Columbia and has extensive experience with community-based nonprofits. As we mentioned last week, Jim and his clinic played an important role in the recent passage of Maryland's Affordable Housing Land Trust Act. Jim guest-blogged with us last summer, and it's great to have him here in 2011.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
James J. Kelly, Jr. (Baltimore; Washington & Lee (visiting)) has posted Maryland's Affordable Housing Land Trust Act, recently published in the Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, Vol. 19, p. 345, Spring/Summer 2010. The abstract:
On May 20, 2010, Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley, signed the Affordable Housing Land Trust Act (AHLT Act) into law. Its enactment marked the culmination of six years of advocacy by the University of Baltimore Community Development Clinic and by the Maryland Asset Building and Community Development Network. The AHLT Act authorizes a new method of creating and sustaining permanently affordable homeownership. By using the affordable housing land trust agreements outlined in the legislation, Maryland nonprofits and governmental agencies may now enter into enforceable long-term agreements with publicly subsidized low- and moderate-income homeowners to ensure that their homes remain affordable to other income-qualified homebuyers in the future. With the development of this essential tool for the creation of permanently affordable homes, Maryland has addressed key obstacles to preserving the affordable housing gains it has made through its pioneering efforts in community-based nonprofit housing development and inclusionary zoning.
This article will explore the legal obstacles that advocates of permanently affordable homeownership in Maryland faced prior to this year’s statutory amendments, the dialogue that produced the final bill, and the way forward for permanently affordable housing in Maryland and elsewhere. Part I will give background about efforts to create permanently affordable homes and the difficulties presented by several legal doctrines common to many states and one unique to Maryland. Focusing on the legislation itself, Part II will describe the advocacy effort and stakeholder dialogue as well as the resulting bill that addressed a variety of concerns raised by the indefinite dedication of land to affordable homeownership. Part III will discuss how existing models of resale restrictions used by community land trust and inclusionary zoning programs can be adapted to meet the affordable housing land trust approach outlined in the statute. The article concludes with a discussion about the value of possible changes in the law of other states to support stewardship of housing affordability.
This is a significant real world legislative achievement, and is due in large part to the efforts of Prof. Kelly and his University of Baltimore Community Development Clinic, so be sure to check out the article. You may remember Jim's excellent guest-blogging for us last summer; we might be hearing more from him very soon (hint, hint).
December 29, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Community Design, Community Economic Development, Housing, Land Trust, Planning, Politics, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 20, 2010
The common law has long encouraged the use and development of land.
This policy favoring land use and development certainly made sense during America's infancy, when the country boasted seemingly inexhaustible stretches of land. But today you cannot find property that is not subject to zoning restrictions. What seemed unlimited is now increasingly scarce. Over-develpment generates multiple problems ranging from pollution to species endangerment. Forty million acres of land - larger than the state of Florida - were newly developed between 1992 and 2007.
One of the reactions to perceived over-development and receeding "wild" lands is the conservation easement, which is (generally speaking) a voluntary agreement to refrain from developing land. Much has been written about the effectiveness of this legal tool, but the arguments in this recent online publication seem disingenuous. The article characterizes the conservation easement as a clever tool wielded by a surreptitious government. The article warns private landowners to be wary of the conservation easement and the government's desire to restrict their rights.
Land trusts exist to remove private property from production.
They do this by acquiring ranch, farm, forest, or other private land either through donation, purchase, or by acquiring CEs to property as well as water. They act as unofficial arms of government agencies—third party intermediaries or ‘land agents’—and routinely flip (sell) donated as well as purchased land and CEs to these government agencies. When they do, they’re paid with tax dollars which, in turn, are used to purchase more private property.
The Conservation Easement is vulnerable to many legitimate criticisms; that it is a tool enabling a government conspiracy to rob private landowners should not be among them.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold (Louisville) has posted Legal Castles in the Sand: The Evolution of Property Law, Culture, and Ecology in Coastal Lands, forthcoming in Syracuse Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 2 (2010-11). The abstract:
U.S. society frequently turns to property law to mediate the various social and ecological dynamics of complex and evolving environments like coastal areas, which are places of transition subject to both natural and human changes. Furthermore, U.S. society frequently turns to constitutional takings doctrines to mediate the dynamics of property law. However, property law and takings cases can be maladaptive to the evolutionary dynamics of coastal lands when they fail to contemplate the ecological and social conditions and dynamics of the objects of property rights and takings claims. In particular, legal abstractions, such as the metaphor of property as a “bundle of rights,” disconnect property and takings law from its context and real-world functions.
An example of three maladaptive responses to coastal land management can be found in the three opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In the case, all eight participating Justices agreed that the Florida Supreme Court’s validation of the State of Florida’s establishment of a boundary-fixing “erosion control line” was not a radical departure from Florida precedent on coastal land ownership rights. However, the Court split 4-4 over whether the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution creates a potential claim of a “judicial taking,” producing three different opinions about judicial takings and the relationships of federal courts to state judicial changes in property law. In each of the three opinions in Stop the Beach Renourishment, the Justices have built “legal castles in the sand”: artificial constructs that will not stand up to the inevitability of change. Each opinion is poorly suited for mediating property issues in coastal lands because it is built on a legal-centric abstraction mismatched to the complex realities of coastal land use.
This article argues that courts should shape property doctrines and decide takings cases with regard for the concrete context in which those doctrines and cases arise, particularly ecological and socio-cultural dynamics. A strong theory of judicial takings, just like many sweeping and aggressive protections of private property autonomy and power, is likely to over-protect private property. However, a weak theory of judicial takings, just like many sweeping and aggressive protections of government or public authority and power, is likely to under-protect private property. In both cases, serious harms to both ecological health and integrity and socio-cultural health and integrity are likely, even if the specific harms vary. The issue is not resistance to change versus unconstrained and rapid change. Instead, the issue is about identifying and facilitating change that is right for and adaptive to the particular evolving context in which the tensions over property interests, land uses, and legal institutions arise. In particular, the object-regarding and context-considering concept of property as a “web of interests” is likely to be more adaptive to change within complex and interconnected ecological and social systems, particularly in sensitive environments like coastal lands, than property concepts that rely on legal-centric abstractions.
November 4, 2010 in Beaches, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, History, Judicial Review, Land Trust, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, August 8, 2010
James J. Kelly, Jr., of Baltimore Law and intrepid Land Use Prof guest blogger, has posted Homes Affordable for Good: Covenants and Ground Leases as Long-Term Resale Restriction Devices, a symposium piece in the St. Louis University Public Law Journal, Vol. 29, p. 9 (2009). The abstract:
August 8, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Housing, Inclusionary Zoning, Land Trust, Landlord-Tenant, Local Government, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Servitudes, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
From the folks at the National Community Land Trust:
A new collection of essays, assembled for the first time, traces the roots, evolution, and prospects of the community land trust -- an innovative model of affordable housing shaped by the likes of Henry George and Ebenezer Howard, and flourishing today in hundreds of U.S. communities.
The Community Land Trust Reader, published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and edited by John Emmeus Davis, brings together the seminal texts that inspired and defined the community land trust movement. The essays - many of which have never before appeared in print, and others written expressly for this volume -- trace the intellectual origins of an eclectic model of tenure that was shaped by the social theories of Henry George, Ebenezer Howard, Ralph Borsodi, and Arthur Morgan, and by social experiments like the Garden Cities of England and the Gramdan villages of India.
For more information about The Community Land Trust Reader, go to www.cltnetwork.org.
Sounds pretty interesting, although if I bought it I'd have to add it to my huge stack of professional reading that never gets done...
Jamie Baker Roskie
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
This week the National Community Land Trust Network is having its annual conference here in Athens, Georgia. Here's their mission statement from their website:
NCLTN provides technical and other support to community land trusts who are providing affordable housing. Community land trusts market affordable homes to low to moderate income clients. The homeowners hold title to the improvements on the land, while the land trust holds title to the land and leases it to the homeowner through a renewable 99 year ground lease. This allows the land trust to keep the housing permanently affordable. NCLTN is different from the Land Trust Alliance, which provides support to land trusts engaged in land conservation activities around the country.
Some colleagues and I are giving a presentation Thursday on land use issues faced by communities where community land trusts operate. I'll blog more about that later this week.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Many of you have already read the recent compelling piece in The New York Times about beef safety. The article chronicles the devastating story of a young dance instructor paralyzed by a virulent strain of E. Coli in a patty of ground beef packaged by Cargill.
Interesting, but why am I posting about this on the Land Use Prof blog? It's because of a follow up piece on Grist about why ground meat is so prevalently infected with this strain of bacteria. The author's conclusion is that in industrial food production, cows are consistently fed corn, which they cannot easily digest. His advice, therefore, is to eat locally-grown, grass fed beef. And there's your land use issue - how can we ensure there is enough agricultural land capable of sustaining enough grass-fed beef production to satisfy local demand? I know that here in Athens our organic farmers and local meat suppliers struggle with capacity issues. And even in this recession, productive agricultural land continues to be eaten up by sprawl. Organizations like the American Farmland Trust are working hard to reverse that trend, by encouraging agricultural land conservation and changes in federal farmland policy. What is your locality doing on this issue?
Jamie Baker Roskie