We Thought Kelo was Bad!

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Kelo decision, Tim Worstall’s TCS Daily column today shares the news on a signficant blow to private property rights in the U.K. If you, like 90% of Americans, thought that Kelo was bad, get a load of this:

Can things get worse though? Could it be possible that this idea that property exists to serve the community, rather than property being a private possession, be taken further? Unfortunately, yes, it can be taken further and it comes from my own country, the United Kingdom. It’s an old saying, a trope or a truism if you prefer, that “An Englishman’s home is his castle”. Whatever happens outside in the streets, whatever idiocies the current political pygmies have decided to inflict upon the populace, the possession and enjoyment of one’s own property was safe, guarded by both law and custom. Certainly there were eminent domain purchases, broadly in line with American practice but as of the first of this month the government no longer even has to pay. Yes, you did read that correctly, your paid off, unmortgaged, fully owned property can be taken away from you without your even being paid for it. The law is here: The Housing (Empty Dwelling Management Orders) (Prescribed Exceptions and Requirements) (England) Order 2006. Something of a mouthful, I know, but what this and the preceding pieces of legislation actually state is that if you leave a property uninhabited for 6 months then the local council can take it from you and rent it to whomever it likes. There are a few exceptions, such as vacation homes and so on, but at a stroke the entire basis of property law has changed. Instead of it being yours to do with as you wish it is yours as long, and only as long, as you do as the government wishes. The set up is that if you have left the property empty then the local council must make reasonable efforts to contact you to let out the house or apartment. If you still decide that you don’t want to, then they will do it for you. Worse, far worse, is if their “reasonable efforts” don’t actually find you, then they’ll do it without actually telling you. These orders allowing them to do this will last 7 years, and can be extended. Yes, this will even be possible in the case of a death: the inheritors have 6 months (not from probate, but from the granting of representation: and there are many only even mildly complicated estates that can take more than 6 months to run the executor’s course) to dispose of the property or conceivably have it compulsorarily rented out from underneath them. That local council can charge you a management fee for this service that you obviously don’t want and should then pass on to you whatever is left of the rent they have been charging your new unwanted tenant. Your new tenants will not, of course, be quite from the top drawer of society, for like anywhere else in the world, that’s not the social stratum from whom the inhabitants of “social” housing are drawn. Yet you will be responsible for the costs of ensuring that said housing is maintained to the highest standards, whether or not they actually pay any rent; indeed, you won’t actually be able to evict them if they should trash the place for, of course, you are not the manager or agent for the property; that is the local council.

Leonard Gilroy is Senior Managing Director of the Pension Integrity Project at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. The Pension Integrity Project assists policymakers and other stakeholders in designing, analyzing and implementing public sector pension reforms.