Thursday, June 21, 2012
the mortgage wins. Because I am a conservation easement nerd savvy academic, I have Westlaw alert me every time a case mentions the term "conservation easement." For years, this yielded very few cases and I only received alerts once a month or so. Lately, I have been getting them daily. Many of these cases come from the tax court and have to do with valuation issues, one line of cases however explores mortgage subordination.
Conservation easements are nonpossessory interests in land that restrict a landowner's use of her property with a goal of yielding a conservation benefit. Many landowners donate conservation easements (i.e. voluntarily restrict the use of their property). Such donations can yield significant federal tax deductions. For a conservation easement (or historic preservation easement) to qualify for a charitable tax break, the restriction must be perpetual. The IRS, Tax Court, and others have acknowledged that it is well nigh impossible to ensure perpetuity of these things. Instead, the IRS has explained that it will consider a restriction to be perpetual if when the restriction is terminated, the beneficiary gets the proceeds. Basically, when a conservation easement is terminated (for any variety of reasons/methods), the holder of the conservation easement will get cash for its porportionate value. Ideally, the holder then uses that money to protect other lands. If your conservation easement doesn't have a provision detailing this procedure, the IRS (in theory) will disallow your deduction. To ensure that the holder will be able to get the proceeds from a land sale, the conservation easement holder must have primary rights to the proceeds. That is, other restrictions on the land must be subordinated (everyone else gets in line behind the conservation easement holder when proceeds from the sale are passed out). This is why the IRS requires any mortgages on the land to be subordinate to the conservation easement.
There have been a few cases from the tax court exploring this issue and most of them seem to involve historic facade easements. In Kaufman v. Commissioner (134 T.C. 182 Apr. 2010), the Tax Court concluded that a facade easement did not qualify for a tax deduction because it wasn't really perpetual because there was a non-subordinated mortgage encumbering the property. The landowners argued that the lack of subordination did not necessarily mean that the holder would not get its proceeds, but the court didn't care. There was a possibility that the facade easement holder would not be able to receive the proportionate share.
Last week in Wall v. Commissioner (T.C. Memo. 2012-169, June 2012), the Tax Court reached a similar result even though the conservation easement (again a facade preservation easement) declared that it all exisiting mortgages were subordinate. The court did not take the conservation easement at its word and instead looked at the text of the mortgage subordination. The two banks involved executed documents appearing to subordinate the mortgages (based on the title and opening provisions of the documents), but a closer reading revealed that the banks still were claiming that they had "prior claims" in the event of any foreclosures or eminent domain proceedings. The presumption that the mortgages get first dibs at the moola stems mostly from the fact that they encumbered the land prior to the facade easement.
However, I think the main lesson here is that there is almost a presumption against the restrictions being perpetual and any possibility that the proportionate proceeds won't get paid to the conservation easement holder mean no tax deduction.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Bustic, Gaeta & Radeloff on Using Zoning and Land Acquisition to Increase Property Values and Help Fish
The ability of zoning and land acquisition to increase property values and maintain largemouth bass growth rates in an amenity rich region
Source:Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 107, Issue 1
Van Butsic, Jereme W. Gaeta, Volker Radeloff
Land use change is a leading cause of environmental degradation in amenity rich rural areas. Numerous policies have been used to combat these negative effects, including zoning and land acquisition. The empirical effects of these policies on the environment and land markets are still debated. Using a coupled economic–ecological model in conjunction with landscape simulations we investigate the effect of zoning and land acquisition on property prices and largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) growth in Vilas County, WI, an amenity rich region with growing rural development. Using econometric models of land use change and property prices, we simulate four alternative land use scenarios: a baseline simulation, a zoning change simulation, a land acquisition program simulation, and a land acquisition program+zoning simulation. Each scenario is simulated over 82 separate lakes. For each scenario we calculate the length of a 20-year old largemouth bass, property prices, and number of new residences at simulation years 20, 40 and 60. The policies have small effects on largemouth bass size and property prices on most lakes, although the effects are more pronounced on some. We also test if the increased property values due to land acquisitions are greater than the cost of the land acquisition program and find that in our case, land acquisition does not “pay for itself”. Our methodology provides a means to untangle the complex interactions between policy, land markets, and the environment. Empirically, our results indicate zoning and land acquisition are likely most effective when targeted to particular lakes.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Here is a call for papers that may be of interest to some of our readers. I would love to submit somthing myself, but it seems like this is the 100th event scheduled for October 12th.
Call for Papers: Washington and Lee's "Climate Change in the Former Colonies: Challenges of Property and History"
From the CFP:
Washington and Lee University School of Law’s Law and History Center, in partnership with Virginia Sea Grant, will host a symposium on Climate Change in the Former Colonies: Challenges of Property and History. Recognizing the unique impact that the colonial legal experience continues to have on Eastern states, the symposium will focus on the application of legal historical research to contemporary problems and opportunities in the areas of policy-making, property rights, and hazard resilience in coastal communities. Panel presentations and potential topics include:
- How the colonial legal experience affects modern property rights and our responsiveness to climate change
- Historical and modern property doctrines—particularly nuisance, zoning, and eminent domain—and their relation to current climate change challenges and policies
- Changing notions of acceptable land use and natural resources
- Environmental hazard resilience policies and opportunities for their enhancement via legal strategies
We are open to suggestions of other related topics.
You can download the full CFP here:
Thursday, June 14, 2012
I meant to post this when it came out late last month but exam grading swallowed me up for a while; many of you have probably already seen this announcement elsewhere. Anyway, tomorrow (June 15) is the deadline to submit abstracts for what will surely be one of the highlights at next year's AALS. Via Shelley Saxer and Tim Mulvaney:
The AALS Section on Property is pleased to announce a Call for Papers for its joint program with the AALS Section on Natural Resources & Energy Law during the AALS 2013 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA. This joint program, entitled “40 Years of Environmental and Natural Resources Law: A Prospective Look,” will forecast how the law surrounding environmental and natural resources might change in the four decades to come. It is scheduled for Monday, January 7, and accompanies a companion program jointly sponsored by the AALS Sections on North American Law and Environmental Law, which is entitled “40 Years of Environmental and Natural Resources Law: A Retrospective Look.” Therefore, this event in its entirety will include four interrelated one-and-one-half-hour sessions.
The specific session organized by the Section on Property is centered on “A Prospective Look at Property Rights.” Broadly speaking, the panelists will examine the legal and political issues that local, national, and international communities confront in seeking to balance public and private interests in the face of significant modern environmental and natural resource challenges. The Section on Property seeks one to two papers that will advance this session’s theme and complement the scholarly perspectives of the following speakers: Maxine Burkett (University of Hawaii School of Law), Steven Eagle (George Mason University School of Law), John Echeverria (Vermont Law School), and Carol Rose (invited) (University of Arizona College of Law). The George Mason Law Review has agreed to publish papers emanating from this session’s presentations in the spring of 2013.
Full-time faculty members of AALS member and fee-paid law schools are invited to submit an abstract not exceeding one page by e-mail to Shelley Saxer (Pepperdine University School of Law), the Chair of the Section on Property Law, at Shelley.Saxer@pepperdine.edu by June 15, 2012. Professor Saxer will select one or two of the submissions for inclusion in the program in consultation with the Section’s officers. Submitting authors will be notified of the results of the selection process by July 1, 2012. To assure timely publication, selected authors should plan to submit their papers of 7,000-8,000 words above the line to the George Mason Law Review by November 1, 2012. The selected authors will be responsible for paying their annual meeting registration fee and travel expenses. Questions should be directed to Professor Saxer at the above-noted email address.
Friday, June 1, 2012
Yesterday, I spent a delightful jam-packed six hours at a constitutional environmental rights workshop at Widener Law School (Delaware not Pennsylvania) hosted by James May and Erin Daly. The workshop brought in scholars from many corners of the US and elsewhere to talk about how environmental rights are and should be embodied in national and subnational constitutions.
The participants indulgently listened to me ramble about a very new project I have examining the constitutionalization of the Public Trust Doctrine. While many others have written cogently and persuassively about the role of the public trust doctrine (Sax, Thompson, and Blumm jump quickly to ming) and powerhouses like Robin Kudis Craig (I love that she has a wikipedia page) have even helpfully catalogued public trust language in state constitutions, I am seeking to explore the "so what" part of the question. If a state chooses to constitutionalize their public trust doctrine, does that result in any on the ground changes? Are those state more likely to have healthier environments? Are those courts likely to be more protective of the environment? Will the state legislatures feel obligated empowered to pass legislative protecting natural resources? These are the questions I am seeking to explore. (Any advice on how to do so would be warmly welcomed).
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
How can you pass up a document called "Beware the Dark Side of Trees?"
K.K. DuVivier recently posted a very helpful document about planting trees in a way that does not reduce the potential passive solar heating you can get for your home. It even comes with helpful diagrams. Who knew a law professor could produce something so practical!
Here is DuVivier's abstact:
Everyone loves puppies, and everyone loves trees. But just as we had to learn to curb and clean up after our dogs, we now need to learn to become responsible tree owners. Many of today’s well-intentioned tree-planting programs ignore the dark side of trees that threaten green energy solutions such as urban gardens, buildings with passive solar designs, solar hot water, and solar-generated electricity systems.
This short pamphlet (one 2-sided page with illustrations) is an attempt to alert everyone to be aware of the dark side of any tree you plant — both the planting location and the shade footprint. Otherwise, any carbon-capture gains from the new trees may be offset by the increased fossil-fuel burned to replace the clean solar energy lost.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Will Doig has an interesting article in Salon called Urban Entertainment Districts: Blocks Where no one has Fun. Subtitle: "Cities keep trying to create downtown cool with dull nightlife districts. But who wants to hang out at the mall?" The article starts with a criticism of Dallas' Victory Park, moves to Kansas City's Power & Light District, and generally paints a negative picture of big-project attempts to create "entertainement districts"--or "districts" of any kind, including "arts districts." It's a well-written article with a good general critique, so read the whole thing. Let me tease out one of the sub-themes here: the problem of comprehensive urban development projects.
What could be wrong with a district where nightclubs and galleries are encouraged to thrive? Nothing, necessarily; done right, a city can help foster these scenes with a gentle guiding hand. Constructing an entire milieu from whole cloth, however, is where cities get into trouble. “The problem with these created-overnight districts is that you’re trying to create a culture as opposed to letting one grow,” says Nathaniel Hood, a Minneapolis-based transportation planner. “You’re getting the culture that one developer or city council member thinks the city needs, as opposed to the ground-up culture that comes from multiple players.” . . .
“A district inherently becomes a single-use idea,” says [studio owner Patrick] Kennedy. “Everything [in the "arts district"] has to be ‘art.’ You end up with a bunch of performing arts spaces and when they’re not in use it becomes a vacuum.” This vacuum has made the district itself a museum of sorts, something impressive to observe but strangely inert. (The Chicago Tribune called the area “the dullest arts district money can buy.”) . . .
So it seems like there are two problems with the "let's-create-a-cool-urban-district" impulse: (1) the practical (and cultural) limitations of comprehensive development projects, and (2) the inherent tendency towards single-use separation that comes with large scale "districting" plans:
That’s a defeatist choice to have to make, but the monocultures created by urban districting make it almost inevitable. At last week’s 20th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, Hood spoke about the folly that is Kansas City’s Power & Light District, an $850 million entertainment district whose neon signage is as blinding as its eagerness to be hip. . . .
It’s not just that the developers are boring people — the economics of single-owner districts incentivize blandness. Chain stores and restaurants can afford to pay higher rent, so they get first dibs. To boost rents even higher, tenants are sometimes promised that no competition will be allowed nearby. “Starbucks will be willing to pay the higher rent if [the developer doesn't] let other cafes into the area,” says Hood. . . .
He contrasts these contrived districts with the more organic development of an entertainment scene at Boston's Kenmore Square: "it shows that these districts work better without all the bureaucratic attachment parenting."
Let's not forget that these grand schemes usually come from good intentions, which combine economic incentive with a genuine desire to create attractive places. But there are some limitations that inhibit these grand schemes. I think that the biggest challenge for the intermediate-term urban planning future will be to figure out how to make legal and incentivize the creation of public spaces through an incremental but still realizable process.
I'm going to Dallas for a bar lecture in a couple of weeks, so I'll try to check out Victory Park. Thanks to Jason Rowe for the pointer.
Friday, May 18, 2012
We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Professor Jessica Owley to the Land Use Prof Blog. She's a law professor at the State University of New York's law school at Buffalo, and with her Ph.D. in environmental science and policy, she is involved in lots of interdisciplinary programs and activities. Many of you already know her for her cutting-edge scholarship on conservation easements and other topics, or for her helpful involvement in various professional service activities. She did some outstanding guest-blogging for us last year, but for those of you who may not be familiar with her blogging or her copius scholarship, here's her faculty bio:
Jessica Owley is an Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo Law School where she teaches environmental law, property, and land conservation. She joined the UB Law faculty after serving as assistant professor at Pace Law School from August 2009 to July 2010. She received her PhD in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of California-Berkeley in 2005, shortly after completing her JD at Berkeley Law in 2004.
Before entering academia, Owley practiced in the Land Use and Environment Law group at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco. Prior to private practice, Owley clerked for the Honorable Harry Pregerson of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Honorable Dean D. Pregerson of the Central District of California. Owley is a member of the California bar and admitted to practice in the Northern, Southern, and Eastern Districts of California and the Ninth Circuit.
Professor Owley's teaching interests are in the areas of property, environmental law, administrative law, and Indian law. While her general research is on land conservation and property rights, her current scholarship focuses on using property tools for conservation in the context of climate change.
The reference in the title is to Jessie's important guest post last year acknowledging that she really is a land use prof. That epiphany speaks to a larger truth about our field, which is that property, land use, environmental law, and local government law are all part of the same web of related issues for legal analysis, study, and policy conversations. We're delighted to welcome Prof. Owley on board, and we're looking forward to providing you with an even better forum to keep you interested in the broad array of important issues that constitutes land use.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Last week the NYU Furman Center published its latest research on the State of New York City's Housing and Neighborhoods.
The Furman Center is pleased to present the 2011 edition of the State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods. In this annual report, the Furman Center compiles statistics on housing, demographics and quality of life in the City, its five boroughs and 59 community districts.
This year we examine the distribution of the burden of New York City’s property tax, analyze the changing racial and ethnic makeup of city neighborhoods, evaluate the state of mortgage lending in New York City and highlight the Furman Center’s latest research on public and subsidized rental housing.
Here is a link to the full report: http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/SOC_2011.pdf
The Furman Center does the leading empirical analysis of land use policy today. This report shows that "owners of New York City’s large rental apartment buildings are subject to a higher effective property tax rate than owners of one-to three-family homes, and bear a disproportionate share of the city’s overall property tax burden." Very interesting stuff. Thanks to Meghan Lewit for the link. Here is the web link to the project, and the full report is here.
Regular readers know that we love the National Building Museum. And any land use professional knows that we all love to talk about Jane Jacobs. So here's an event that might be of great interest: Urban Forum: What Would Jane Jacobs Do?
Fifty one years after Jane Jacobs published her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her ideas on liveable, walkable, and diverse neighborhoods continue to impact how urban environments are designed. A panel discusses Jane Jacobs’ legacy, including urban renewal, historic preservation, mixed-use zoning, and public space. Light refreshments will be served.
- Bing Thom, Bing Thom Architects
- Harriet Tregoning, director, Washington D.C. Office of Planning
- Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief, Metropolis Magazine (moderator)
- John Zuccotti, co-chairman of the board, Brookfield Properties Corporation and former Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission
Free (but required) registration is available for the event on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 10:00-11:30. Check it out! If you are able to go to WWJJD, I'd love to hear about it.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Paul Boudreaux (Stetson)--the original Founding Editor of the Land Use Prof Blog-- has published a book that addresses one of the most critical issues in American land use in the 21st century: The Housing Bias--Rethinking Land Use Laws for a Diverse New America (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011). Here's the SSRN abstract:
As more than 300 million Americans squeeze into our country, and as single-person households now outnumber families of parents and children, it's time to rethink our land use laws that favor the single-family house. Our zoning laws were created in an age that assumed that nearly everyone outside of central cities preferred to live a house separated from neighbors; this assumption is no longer valid and no longer sustainable for a crowded nation. The Housing Bias explores the legal discrimination against apartment buildings and other forms of low-cost residences and how these laws make housing more expensive for modest-income Americans – a key factor in the development of subprime loans and other risky practices that eventually sparked our current economic crisis. Why do our laws prohibit the construction of low-cost housing? It is largely because existing homeowners prefer to exclude them – an astonishing example of law’s granting a legal privilege to wealthier citizens, a privilege that our nation can no longer afford.
This provocative book explores real-world 21st-century controversies of the housing bias. It visits the recent effort of Virginia suburbs to enforce “overcrowding” laws against mostly Latino families who migrated to the area to build new subdivisions, and then moves to New York, where eminent domain is used through a dubious interpretation of law to seize condominiums of middle-class families to build a new pro basketball arena. The book reports on the story of how laws requiring large house lots prevented the construction of a mobile-home community in a growing rural county in southern Michigan, and then examines the failed effort to legalize the widespread phenomenon of small “granny flats” in the backyards of the middle-class homes in the packed city of Los Angeles.
The Housing Bias concludes by exploring how we could update our laws to accommodate the housing needs of a diverse new America, in which half of all households now consist of only one or two persons. The prescriptions range from the complex, such as using state laws to override the power of local homeowners to zone out low-cost housing in certain zones, to the simple, such as facilitating the construction of apartments above suburban malls. It is useful for libraries and for college courses on society or law or for any intelligent reader. Written in an entertaining and jargon-free style, The Housing Bias is essential reading for understanding the flaws and the future of the American community.
One of the great things about land use is that it is fundamentally about places and their stories, and in this book Paul uses these examples to make a larger point about a critical issue of law and policy. The Housing Bias is definitely worth reading and thinking about.
Monday, May 14, 2012
Jessica Owley (Buffalo) has posted Neoliberal Land Conservation and Social Justice, Interational Union for Conservation of Nature Academy of Environmental Law e-Journal, 2012. The abstract:
Private land conservation programs in North America tend to convey the greatest benefits to those who are already relatively well off in terms of land, wealth, and quality of life. For example, conservation easements — the fastest growing method of land protection in the United States — reward landowners with cash payments and tax breaks. At the same time, these programs tend to focus protected land in areas with low population densities. These benign sounding programs can hamper social services by reducing tax revenues and preventing the development of socially desirable amenities like affordable housing. This article describes the emergence of conservation easements as a land protection mechanism, situating it within the worldwide trend of neoliberal conservation and emergence of new environmental governance systems dominated by private actors. Specifically, this article examines the social justice concerns of conservation easements including questionable use of public funding, inequitable distribution of environmental amenities, and concerns about democracy and accountability. Rethinking conservation easement placement, use, and enforcement along with reducing or removing the tax breaks associated with them would alleviate, but not erase, some of the environmental justice concerns.
I have good reason to think that we might be hearing more from Prof. Owley soon. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Just got in the mail a copy of the great new book by Gregory S. Alexander (Cornell) & Hanoch Dagan (Tel-Aviv), Properties of Property (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 2012). From the description:
Broadly interdisciplinary, Properties of Property provides an overview of cutting-edge work from leading legal scholars as well as important non-legal scholars. The text is designed for an international audience, particularly teachers, scholars, and students throughout Europe, the British Commonwealth, and China. Properties of Property is perfectly suited for courses and seminars in other departments, from history to urban planning, both at the graduate and undergraduate level. It is a must for any law school library, even if no seminar on property theory is offered, because it appeals to law school students as well as scholars and graduate students interested in property. A Teacher’s Guide provides different ways the authors have organized property theory seminars using the book; suggestions for using the book as a companion to a property casebook; and discussion of questions that are posed in the Notes.
This looks like a great read; an outstanding survey of the leading interdisciplinary scholarship for any scholar or practitioner in property, land use, and environmental law; and it would make a perfect text for a property seminar or as a supplement to a doctrinal course.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
On Wednesday I'll be part of the ABA's "Professor's Corner" teleconference, to discuss Severance v. Patterson, the Texas Open Beaches Act case. The teleconference is Wednesday, May 9 at 12:30 eastern/11:30 central. All are welcome to participate at the number below. The blurb:
The ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section’s Legal Education and Uniform Laws Group has a regular (and free!) monthly teleconference, “Professor’s Corner,” in which a panel of three law professors highlight and discuss recent real property cases of note.
Members of the AALS Real Estate Transactions section are encouraged to participate in this monthly call (which is always on the second Wednesday of the month).
The May 2012 call is this Wednesday, May 9, 2012, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time (11:30 a.m. Central, 9:30 a..m. Pacific). The call-in number is 866-646-6488. When prompted for the passcode, enter the passcode number 557 741 9753.
The panelists for May 9, 2012 are:
Professor Tanya Marsh, Assistant Professor of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law. Professor Marsh will discuss Roundy’s Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, 674 F.3d 638 (7th Cir. 2012). Decided in March 2012, this case held that Roundy’s (a non-union supermarket chain) did not have the right to exclude third parties (in this case, non-employee union organizers) from common areas of shopping centers in which it operated.
Professor Matt Festa, Associate Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law. Professor Festa will discuss Severance v. Patterson, 2012 WL 1059341 (Tex. 2012). In this case, decided March 30, 2012, the Texas Supreme Court struck down the “rolling easement” theory of public beachfront property access under the Texas Open Beaches Act.
Professor Wilson Freyermuth, John D. Lawson Professor and Curators’ Teaching Professor, University of Missouri. Professor Freyermuth will discuss Summerhill Village Homeowners Ass’n v. Roughley, 270 P.3d 639 (Wash. Ct. App. 2012), in which the court refused to permit the mortgage lender to exercise statutory redemption after its lien was extinguished by virtue of a foreclosure sale by an owners’ association to enforce its lien for unpaid assessments. He will also discuss First Bank v. Fischer & Frichtel, 2012 WL 1339437 (Mo. April 12, 2012), in which the Missouri court rejected the “fair value” approach to calculating deficiency judgments under the Restatement of Mortgages.
It should be an interesting conversation with a good variety issues to discuss. Please feel welcome to participate, whether or not you are a currently a section member.
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who participated, and to Wilson Freyermuth for moderating and Tanya Marsh for inviting me. The ABA RPTE Section will be doing this every month, so stay tuned for more interesting discussions to come!
Monday, May 7, 2012
Michael C. Blumm (Lewis & Clark) and Tim Wigington have posted The Oregon and California Railroad Grant Lands’ Sordid Past, Contentious Present, and Uncertain Future: A Century of Conflict, forthcoming at 40 Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review No. 1 (2013). The abstract:
This article examines the long, contentious history of the Oregon & California Land Grant that produced federal forest lands now managed by the Bureau of Land Management (“O&C lands”), including an analysis of how these lands re-vested to the federal government following decades of corruption and scandal, and the resulting congressional effort that created a management structure supporting local county governments through overharvesting the lands for a half-century. The article proceeds to trace the fate of O&C lands through the “spotted owl wars” of the 1990s, the ensuing Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), the timber salvage rider of 1995, and the George W. Bush Administration’s unsuccessful attempts to change the compromise reached in the NWFP. The article then explains how decreases in timber harvesting and declines in federal payments have brought the counties reliant on these lands to the brink of bankruptcy, and analyzes two current legislative proposals aimed at increasing harvests on the O&C lands in order to bolster flagging county economies. The article concludes by identifying significant economic and environmental flaws in these proposals and suggests several alternative revenue-producing options that could provide economic security and diversity to the counties without eviscerating the key environmental protections provided by the NWFP and other federal environmental protection statutes.
The article looks like a fascinating interdisciplinary blend of law, policy, and history.
Monday, April 30, 2012
Kirsten Matoy Carlson (Wayne State) has posted Priceless Property, forthcoming in the Georgia State University Law Review. The abstract:
In 2011, the poorest Indians in the United States refused to accept over $1 billion dollars from the United States government. They reiterated their long held belief that money – even $1.3 billion dollars – could not compensate them for the taking of their beloved Black Hills. A closer look at the formation of the Sioux claim to the Black Hills helps us to understand why the Sioux Nation has repeatedly rejected over $1 billion dollars in compensation for land taken by the United States over 100 years ago. This article seeks to understand why the Sioux view the Black Hills as priceless by studying the formation of the Black Hills claim. It constructs a new, richer approach to understanding dispute formation by combining narrative analysis with the sociolegal framework for explaining dispute formation. The article argues that narratives enrich the naming, claiming, and blaming stages of dispute creation and illustrates the usefulness of this new approach through a case study of the Black Hills claim. It uses the autobiographical work of an ordinary Sioux woman to provide a narrative lens to the creation of the Sioux claim to the Black Hills. American Indian Stories by Zitkala-Sa presents a narrative of Sioux life around the time of the claims emergence. By contextualizing and humanizing the claim, my analysis provides insights into why the Sioux claim to the Black Hills emerged into a legal dispute and helps to explain why the Black Hills remain priceless property to the Sioux Nation today.
This article employs more of a law-and-humanities approach focusing on social and historical context and personal stories, which I think makes it an interesting read.
Monday, April 23, 2012
In search of a relaxing diversion after another hard day mulling the intricacies of land use and real property law, I sat down last night with my wife to enjoy a quirky, Oscar-nominated film called "The Descendants." You can imagine my surprise and indignation when a key plot point hinged on the rule against perpetuities! Although the intricacies of the rule were irrelevant, my enjoyment of the film was greatly diminished as I found myself attempting to mentally sort out how the rule would apply in this situation and whether the movie had gotten the rule right rather than paying attention to the poignant tale that was unfolding.
Fortunately for you, I am not going to spend this post saying whether the movie got the rule against perpetuities right because, frankly, that would just reveal my ignorance about the rule. Rather, the movie's treatment of the rule against perpetuities communicated an interesting and somewhat disturbing message about dead hand control in property law.
To summarize ever so briefly, the protagonist Matt King is a real estate lawyer in Hawaii who, along with innumerable cousins similarly garbed in garish Hawaiian shirts, has inherited an interest in 25,000 acres of pristine Hawaii land from a native Hawaiian ancestor. The land is held in a trust administered by our hero, who tells us at the outset that because of the rule against perpetuities, the trust is set to expire in seven years (thus beginning my confusion, as I had thought trusts were exempt from the rule). The entire local community is greatly interested in the fate of the land, which now rests in the hands of Mr. King along with several other weighty personal matters which will be resolved in the following 2 hours. SPOILER ALERT AHEAD:
Most of the cousins wish to sell the land now to a real estate developer before the trust expires. Our hero seems set to agree with them, but then dramatically changes his mind in the movie's conclusion, asserting that he and the family have an obligation to their ancestors, their descendants, and to the Hawaiian people at large to maintain the land in its pristine state. When his cousins question him about how he's going to get around the RAP problem, he says that he's got seven more years to figure that out. They seem convinced.
So what's the message for property lawyers? The movie interprets the RAP as a heartless legal formality that operates to remove land from its sentimental roots and convert it into a market commodity that can be exploited by rapacious real estate developers (it is no coincidence that the nearest thing the movie has to a villain is a real estate broker). This is, to say the least, an interpretation of the RAP that property profs will find novel. I have always understood the purpose of the RAP to be the prevention of a landed aristocracy: no longer can a landowner ensure that the source of his or her wealth stay in the family for all time. The dramatic conclusion of "The Descendants," by contrast, asks us to cheer for the protagonist as he attempts to perpetuate his family's landed aristocracy into perpetuity. The movie accomplishes this through a clever trick: we do not see the protagonist as an aristocrat, but as someone whose wealth and privilege is a burden because he is so conscious of the monumental social impact of his great fortune. And it's easy to look good when your adversary is a developer. The movie practically makes one nostalgic for the days when society was ruled by a patrician class with an acute sense of social responsibility. After Citizens United, we still have the patrician class, but without the social responsibility.
In short, I could not enjoy the movie.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Larissa M. Katz (Queen's University) has an important new piece up: 'Governing Through Owners': How and Why Formal Private Property Rights Enhance State Power, forthcoming in the Pennsylvania Law Review (2012). The abstract:
A system of formal private property rights is a network of offices through which states can allocate responsibility to individuals on a mass scale for a wide variety of tasks, including some of the state’s core governance functions. A system of property rights do not straightforwardly constrain the state; in some contexts, they enhance state power, too. Because many of the state’s core governance functions are territorially defined (such as the maintenance of peace and order within the territory, defense of the territory from external threats, and the provision of infrastructure), this phenomenon appears most clearly in the case of private property rights in land. A network of landowners is a useful (and sometimes crucial) tool that enables a state to govern locally in the farthest reaches of its territory, even when it lacks the capacity or will to use other more formal tools for governance, such as governing by bureaucracy or licence. Thus, it is useful to think of the state’s power to define property rights in a manner that includes the obligation to carry out core state governance functions as itself a mode of governance. I call this “governing through owners.”
This model of state-owner relations emerges from two important conceptual starting points: first, the nature of ownership as an office through which the state assigns burdens; and second, what I call the “survival conditions” of a territorially defined state, namely, the establishment of basic governmental functions throughout its territory.
Looks like a must-read.
Friday, April 6, 2012
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.
Monday, April 2, 2012
Eric R. Claeys (George Mason) has another new paper out: Locke Unlocked: Productive Use in Trespass, Adverse Possession, and Labor Theory. The abstract:
Most American property scholars acknowledge that “Of Property,” chapter 5 of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, deserves a significant place in the canon of property theory. Virtually all of those scholars, however, understand Of Property in one of several manners that trivialize its argument. This Article draws on scholarship published in the last 20 years in political philosophy and intellectual history, by scholars who understand Locke to propound a theory of labor called here “productive labor theory.” Productive labor theory judges legal and other normative institutions by how effectively the domains of freedom they create in relation to external assets help a wide range of citizens extract from those assets benefits likely to contribute to their rational flourishing.
This Article restates the main tenets of productive labor theory as propounded in that political-philosophy and intellectual-history scholarship. To make productive labor theory concrete, the Article illustrates how it applies to the prima facie case of trespass to land, the remedies for ongoing encroachments, and adverse possession and a few other common defenses to trespass. To situate productive labor theory in relation to legal academics’ impressions, the Article contrasts productive labor theory with act utilitarianism, with the libertarian rendition of Lockean worked out by Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), and with the labor-desert claims commonly associated with section 27 of the Second Treatise.