The Security of Property is one of the Great
The title of this week’s Lasee’s Notes isn’t something that came to me in a
dream or I thought of while driving down to Madison. The phrase is a quote
from Alexander Hamilton who was more than one of our country’s founding
fathers. He was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, the first
Secretary of the Treasury, and the subject of a hit Broadway musical.
Alexander was also one of our country’s first defenders of private property
Recently as the Chairman of the
Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing and Trade
I chaired a joint public hearing with the chairman of the
Assembly Committee Housing and Real Estate.
Among the six bills we took public testimony on was
Senate Bill 387 (SB 387)
and its companion bill
Assembly Bill 479 (AB 479)
also known as the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights. These bills will protect
personal property rights and reduce the regulatory burdens of home
ownership endangered by changing laws and local ordinances that infringe
the rights of property owners.
Property owners often buy the property next door to the land they already
own. Land owners do this all the time in both the city and the country for
their own reasons. The land owner’s yearly property tax bill and the county
plat map identifies them as separate lots, both owned by the same property
owner. The property owner thinks he or she owns two lots and pays taxes on
two lots. Yet…
Some local governments have created laws regarding the minimum size or
front footage for a buildable lot. So property that is perfectly legal
to build on when purchased is now deemed an undersized substandard
lot. Nothing changes for the property owner until they go to sell or
build on one of the adjacent lots. In 50 Wisconsin counties a property
owner would not be legally able to sell the adjacent lot
because now it is too small. These 50 Wisconsin counties have lot-merger
ordinances that require a property owner with an adjacent lot and at
least one of those lots doesn’t meet the local lot size ordinance,
all of the property, regardless to how many lots of land or
that the land was purchased separately is considered one
Wisconsin's most famous example of this government overreach involves a
court case that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In the
case the Murr family owns two adjacent lots in St. Croix County. The first
lot was purchased in 1960 and the second lot in 1963. The family had a cabin
on the first lot and never built on the second lot. In 1975, the St. Croix
County Board passed an ordinance that adjacent lots under common ownership
may not be sold or developed as separate lots. In 2004, the Murr family
wanted sell the second lot that was purchased in 1963. However the 1975 St.
Croix County ordinance prevented the family from selling the second lot
separately. The Murr family filed a lawsuit against the county arguing that
the 1975 law was a violation of the family’s private property right.
Earlier this year
the US Supreme Court ruled St. Croix County’s 1975 ordinance was
A ruling by the court that has been called a severe blow to property owner’s
rights. The Homeowners’ Bill of Rights restores private property rights
by prohibiting ordinances that would merge lots without the owner’s consent
and protects the ability of property owners to build on and sell lots that
are buildable when the lots are made too small because of local law changes.
This bill also creates a definition of conditional use and provides
certainty for property owners by creating a fair and reasonable approval
process. This provision simply says, if a property owner satisfies or agrees
to satisfy all conditions of the conditional use permit, they must be
granted the permit.
The Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing, and Trade heard a lot of
public testimony on the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights.
The public testimony can be viewed on Wisconsin Eye starting at the 139
SB 387 passed the committee with a bi-partisan vote of 4-1 and is now
available for action by the entire State Senate.
I am very proud to be a co-sponsor of the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights. I
believe that our founding fathers recognized that government existed to
protect property rights. The rule of law, private property rights and
personal freedoms are foundations of our successful nation. Our founding
fathers had some pretty good ideas. The Homeowners’ Bill of Rights is closer
to the idea of the private right to own property without fear of our
government taking it from our citizens unjustly.