Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

17 May 2009

Government Abuse of Building Permit Power

The Cato Institute Daily Podcast for 14 May 09 features Tim Sandefur, an adjunct scholar at Cato, discussing examples of local government abusing their control of building permits to deny the permit requester the right to vote or to charge them exorbitant fees. Permits are supposed to be the means to eliminate public safety hazards, but they are actually now used for much more. They are used with high fees to reduce general taxes. They were used in the most famous case on such matters to impose beach access for the general public over the land of a family who wanted a permit to add a second story to their home. That case went to the Supreme Court, where the argument that the home blocking the view of the beach from the highway was ruled no excuse to impose an unrelated requirement for a public easement on the property owners.

The featured issue in the podcast is that of the Griswolds of Carlsbad, CA. They wanted a permit to add two rooms to their home for their grandchildren when they came visiting. Carlsbad said they would grant the permit if the Griswolds would give up their right to vote "No" on property assessments! You might think this is really unreal. But, similar permit cases in Santa Rosa, CA and Missoula, MT have occurred in which the requester was required to give up the right to vote if they were to receive the permit.

While we are the subject of permits, I will add that permits are also used as a tool to enforce building codes, many of which require the use of expensive and old-fashioned materials which are difficult to install. These requirements are often not updated often and are designed to require the permit requester to use expensive, licensed tradesmen. They are also designed to keep pre-built housing from competing with the local builders who will hire local workers. In reality, permits and building codes are used for many purposes other than safety purposes. They are another tool in the hands of the power seekers in local government.


Christopher V said...

I built a functional sculpture, composed of pallets to cover my car and motorcycle and to act as a base to the rest of the sculpture which is not complete, There is no electricity or water services to the sculpture, there is no floor or permanent foundation. The tow code enforcer sent a summons to me for erecting a building without obtaining permits. Did I mention the entire sculpture is built out of pallets and other found materials, there could be no plans submitted, the sculpture is primitive but has stood through two heavy winters, I live on a dead end facing a lake with only one neighbor who is proud to have a creative person next door. There is no danger to another person or property besides my own. The building code is written so that anything with a roof is considered a building, and can not be created on any property with out plans and permits, apparently we live in a strict police state and even though we live with the ideal of pursuit of happiness, if that includes nailing a few pieces of wood together, you are just out of luck. I go to the local court this Thursday to defend my art.

I am an artist by trade and the code actually says I'm allowed to produce sculpture, but their argument is if it looks like a duck, it's a duck.

Is there anything I can take with me aid in my cause to keep this functional sculpture?

Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. said...

Hi Christopher V,

I am not a lawyer, let alone one specializing in building codes, construction issues, or artistic endeavors. Personally, because one is largely stripped of the protection of rational argument when dealing with government, I would rather confront a thug on the street with a knife than have to confront a local government official on his mighty "I am protecting the people stead." The thug is easier to deal with and much less terrifying.

I wish you the best of luck, but I suspect you are in for a terribly bloody uphill fight.