Oklahoma Property Rights Protection Bill or Property Rights Destruction Bill?

 

little house

Kaye Beach

May 1, 2014

As promised from the start, HB 2620 which is supposed to prohibit cities from mandating vacant property fees and registration, and HB 3363 which defines “abandoned buildings” as a public nuisance, have been combined. The title for the new version of HB 2620 remains “Protect Property Rights Act”  (Call me cynical but such titles of bills always make me think “PATRIOT ACT”)

There are some grave issues with this measure but for now I am only going to address the first portion.  (I will post the about the rest of it before this weekend in over)

The reasoning for merging the registry ‘ban’ bill (HB2620)  with the abandoned property definition bill (HB3363) is so that owners of property with ‘bad’ vacancies CAN be targeted, forced to register and accrue a variety of fines and fees which if not paid will result in a lien being placed on their property.

Both bills were passed by the House and sent to the Senate (Hb3363 with title off) HB3363 was not heard in the Senate but was combined with HB 2620 after the bill was passed by the senate.

What we have now is a mess that is due to be heard in the House General Government Conference Committee  next week.  I am almost certain that our legislators will not pass this monster of a bill in anything resembling its current state but you never know….and I am concerned enough about it that I am going to begin squalling now rather than taking the ‘hide and watch’ approach and end possibly up regretting that later on.

The first portion of the committee substitute for HB2620 is supposed to prohibit municipalities from implementing mandatory fees and registries for real property.  Rep. Steve Martin, the House author,  says he wants to  protect property owners from onerous and expensive city mandates such as the recent OKC vacant property registration ordinance which he feels goes too far.

Residential properties that are vacant for 30 days must register the property with the city.  If your property is,  at a minimum, 1. vacant  and 2. water and electric has been shut off for more than 60 days, you are required to pay a $285 fee and an annual renewal fee of $190.  It doesn’t matter if the building is entirely up to code.  If those two conditions apply, your property is designated a “vacant property” that requires you to pay for some special attention from the city government.  Read more about OKC’s new vacant property registry here

I agree with the House author of HB 2620 that state intervention in municipal actions that violate city residents’ right’s is appropriate.  However, it is doubtful that the current language will survive to passage of the bill.

For one thing, it is too broad. As currently written this measure would not only nullify all existing vacant property registries and fees but also other existing registries such as for storm shelters which allows rescuers to find and search all shelters in the aftermath of a disaster. Not only will the cities vehemently oppose such a measure, citizens might as well.  Whether or not you agree with the premise that there should be no mandatory registries of real property, understand that the bill is not likely to survive to address the stated goal of halting vacant property registries when written this broadly.

More concerning than what may appear to be merely a stubborn stance on principle (which I usually don’t criticize) is that numerous statements made by the bill’s authors clearly indicates that they do not really oppose all “registration of real property” as the bill states but simply mandatory registration of otherwise perfectly maintained property that happens to also be vacant.

‘Treat also sponsored House Bill 3363, which defines abandoned buildings and how they should be handled by a city. He said he could merge the two bills to help better define what is an abandoned or vacant building. Treat also said Oklahoma City’s fee requirement will not reach those it is intended for – improper property owners’ Link

Its going to be a real trick to separate these proper and “improper” owners, I’m afraid.  In fact, it will be impossible to pass such a measure that will not inevitably harm what you and I might classify as good property owners.

When you consider the fact that state law already allows for the city to deal with “improper” property owners which are those whose use or neglect of their property harms the general right of others, you might wonder what it is we are missing here.   Protecting our rights is precisely the purpose of government in the first place and they are well-seasoned to the task.  City government has broad police power to intervene anytime the rights its residents are threatened furthermore, city governments in this state also have specific statutory authority abate common public nuisances. (See Title 11 )  So what problem do we have that is so new and extraordinary that we need to grant cities some brand new powers?

I don’t agree that some vacant property registries are necessary or proper and think It would be a grave mistake for the state legislature to further burden  property owners with such registries or fees at all.   

Registration is not necessary as cities already know where the problem properties are and how to contact the owners. For example, this is from a 2013 City of Norman Council Oversight Meeting where the issue of a vacant property registration was discussed.

‘Ms. Leah Messner, Assistant City Attorney said locating the property owners is not an issue’

It is important to note that city, state and federal properties are exempt from enforcement of such city ordinances. Government properties (even the ones that may have been taken fro you for being an ‘improper’ owner) can sit happily vacant for as long as the government wants them to with no penalty.  As noted by the Norman assistant City Attorney, banks can be exempt and the outcome of recent federal lawsuit indicates that federal mortgage holders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are also exempt from such city ordinances.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Exempt From Chicago Vacant Building Ordinance

 However, there are no exemptions for the average property owner or financially struggling individuals.  When the Norman Assistant City Attorney was asked if there were any exemptions from a vacant property registry and the attendant fees for low-income property owners her answer was simply “No

It is easy to see why property owners might feel that vacant and abandoned property programs are open to abuse and possibly a racket that will result in an even greater transfer of wealth from the ordinary citizen to government and their cronies.  In fact, in cities across the nation where vacant and abandoned property programs like the one Oklahoma City is apparently embarking on,  are well advanced, there is plenty of evidence that such fears are complete warranted.

Here is what I’m afraid might happen;  if the HB 2620 is amended at some point prior to final passage to protect only perfectly pristine vacant properties  registration and fees wouldn’t it also, by omission, bless city ordinances to mandate registration of any other vacant properties?  This would end up being a case of the exception that swallows the rule.

I guess the question is do you support subjecting property owners (except for the government and big banksters) to more bureaucracy, fines, fees and risk of having their property taken?  Do we have a right to own property that is vacant?

If you think we do have the right to really own our private property then you might want to encourage the members of the  General Government Conference Committee  to be careful and not allow HB2620 to be amended to turn a what is supposed to be a property rights protection measure into a property rights destruction law.

All vacant property registries should be prohibited.

The rest of the measure is an utter nightmare and deserves it own separate post which will go up sometime this weekend.

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2 responses to “Oklahoma Property Rights Protection Bill or Property Rights Destruction Bill?

  1. Pingback: Oklahoma Property Rights Protection Bill or Property Rights Destruction Bill? | C L C

  2. Pingback: Oklahoma Property Rights Protection Bill or Property Rights Destruction Bill?

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