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The edict of Gary Reese, Mayor Pro Tempore and Vaquero Supreme of the Vegas Valley

As you may recall, Ted Marshall owns a warehouse in downtown Las Vegas. Like many buildings in downtown Las Vegas, Ted Marshall’s warehouse has been repeatedly vandalized by taggers. Like many property-owners in downtown Las Vegas, he covered up the graffiti several times, only to have new taggers come by and paint more on. Then, one day, he found some graffiti on his wall that he kind of liked, and he decided that he wanted to leave that design up on his own building’s wall. So the city of Las Vegas fined him $930 for having graffiti he wanted up on a wall he owns.

Ted Marshall thought this was bull crap: the city government shouldn’t force him to pay to get rid of a design that vandals put up without his permission, and, while we’re at it, the city government shouldn’t force him to pay fines for leaving designs he wants to leave up on his own building. Ted Marshall’s representative on the city council, Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese, replies:

I don’t want graffiti on any buildings in the city of Las Vegas. He said it was artistic or something, but for me, it’s a crime. For him to stand there and say he’s sick and tired and he’s going to leave it how it is — that’s bull crap.

Please remember that in the view of the Las Vegas city council, what matters is what Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese does or does not want on buildings in the city of Las Vegas — certainly not what the mere owners of those buildings want or do not want on them.

Mary Price, falsely identified as a spokeswoman for the city of Las Vegas (actually, she speaks for the government, not for the city), adds:

It’s like any other situation where you have property damage, city spokeswoman Mary Ann Price explains. If you had a burned-out building … it creates a hazard. You as the property owner would be responsible for it.

She’s right that this is just like any other situation where you have property damage. As long as a burned-out building, no matter how hazardous, doesn’t actually threaten to damage anybody else’s property, the city government has absolutely no business forcing the property owner to fix that up, either, if she would rather not do so. Why should they?

The Review-Journal‘s editorial board informs us that The whole issue is surprisingly simple, once viewed through the lens of property rights. Indeed it is. The issue here is that Mary Ann Price and Gary Reese — by the grace of Law Mayor Pro Tempore, Defender of Order, and Vaquero Supreme of the Vegas Valley — believe that the whole city of Las Vegas is their own rightful property, by concession of the sovereign state and federal governments, which the supposed owners of land and buildings really only lease on Gary Reese’s terms and at his pleasure. They believe that they have the right to tell you what they do or don’t want to see, how they do or don’t want it used, and who you can or cannot invite to use it, in the name of maintaining what they see as good taste, or good business, or protecting the property values in their personal domains. If you’re not interested in helping them maintain a touch of class with the land or the buildings that you were foolish enough to think you owned, then they tell you that your claim is bull crap, that their opinions about the proper disposal of your building matter far more than yours, and they will send professional busybodies and armed thugs to inform you of your responsibilities, then to harass you, shove you around, fine you, and ultimately to jail you or kill you if you should resist their efforts to collect.

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8 replies to The edict of Gary Reese, Mayor Pro Tempore and Vaquero Supreme of the Vegas Valley Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Black Bloke

    I figure one might be able to build a subtle critique of Hoppean monarchy theory from this.

  2. anonymouse

    But if you think about it, how is this really any different from Las Vegas being a giant HOA? That’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect an HOA to do too. Are those considered voluntary, or do you have problems with those sorts of attachments to property as well?

  3. Rad Geek

    anonymouse,

    If there were actually a giant contractual HOA the size of Las Vegas, I wouldn’t have any problem with it from the standpoint of justice. (I might well think it was stupid, for other reasons, but that’s a different issue from whether or not it’s consensual.)

    But the problem is that for you to amass such an HOA, first you’d actually have to have a person, or a genuinely contractual association of people, come along and legitimately acquire ownership of the entire territory, and that means either homesteading — a marked claim and ongoing transformative labor on the land — or else consensual transfer that ultimately traces back to homesteading. And each of those landowners must have contractually signed on to the agreement. It’s not good enough for someone to show up in the middle of a desert, plant a flag, claim everything around him for the august and holy covenant community of Las Vegas, and then insist that anyone who tries to settle down within that claim — whether or not the land they settle down on has ever actually been worked, or visited, or even seen by the original claimant — must pay a ransom and submit to their terms.

    And that’s more or less what actually did happen: the city, county, state, and federal governments showed up, declared the whole thing their personal fief without ever having homesteaded any of it, and used the force of law to coerce homesteaders and later buyers into paying them a ransom and submitting to their terms. A lot of the land they claim title to was empty only a couple decades ago and never worked on at the time that owners settled on it; a lot of it is still empty and never worked on now.

    As it happens, if city governments did actually have to negotiate and secure the free agreement of all legitimate land-owners, I think it’s extremely unlikely that anything like that could ever happen on a stretch of land the size of the city of Las Vegas. That’s an awful lot of land for any one person or small group of people to try and homestead; and if you have a group of people numbering in the thousands, then you’re almost surely not going to be able to rope that many people together into a single expensive (8% of sales revenue, perpetual property taxes, etc.), restrictive agreement with no secure terms (since the city government can hike taxes or change land use restrictions at any time) and no way to exit the agreement, ever. (In fact, most HOAs are probably larger than could have actually been developed on a free market; they’re typically set up by large government grants of undeveloped land to a single real estate developer, and the forcible exclusion of would-be competitors from homesteading the land.)

    I also think that if any such thing ever were achieved, it would be extremely fragile. Because, even if the covenant agreement itself allows no way for landowners ever to exit the agreement, and even if the HOA requires that any transfer of land to a new owner will require that the new owner sign on for the terms of the HOA, land can always be abandoned, and if it is abandoned, that means it’s available for homesteading by anybody. And if it is available for homesteading, then the homesteaders need not sign on to the terms of the covenant in order to own the land, and cannot legitimately be forced to pay any of their taxes or obey any of their land-use restrictions. Since, as a matter of fact, there’s always some land being abandoned in big cities anyway, and since there would be much more of an incentive to abandon land and to reclaim formerly abandoned land, if it meant you could thereby exempt yourself from the city government’s laws and the city government’s taxes, what you’d see is the covenant being eaten up by pockets of freedom over time as abandoned land passed out of the covenant and into the hands of new homesteaders.

    So, (1) I don’t consider the analysis applicable to actually-existing city governments, and (2) I think positions which expect this sort of thing to arise under genuinely consensual conditions (for example, Hoppe’s hopes of using this sort of thing to keep the wogs and the queahs out of his libertopia) are wildly unrealistic, for simple economic reasons, at any scale greater than small neighborhoods or apartment complexes.

  4. Mike

    “I also think that if any such thing ever were achieved, it would be extremely fragile. Because, even if the covenant agreement itself allows no way for landowners ever to exit the agreement, and even if the HOA requires that any transfer of land to a new owner will require that the new owner sign on for the terms of the HOA, land can always be abandoned, and if it is abandoned, that means it’s available for homesteading by anybody. And if it is available for homesteading, then the homesteaders need not sign on to the terms of the covenant in order to own the land, and cannot legitimately be forced to pay any of their taxes or obey any of their land-use restrictions. Since, as a matter of fact, there’s always some land being abandoned in big cities anyway, and since there would be much more of an incentive to abandon land and to reclaim formerly abandoned land, if it meant you could thereby exempt yourself from the city government’s laws and the city government’s taxes, what you’d see is the covenant being eaten up by pockets of freedom over time as abandoned land passed out of the covenant and into the hands of new homesteaders.”

    Not necessarily. The HOA would probably foresee this possibility and work a clause into the contract which transfers title to the HOA in the event of abandonment. Of course this would reduce the incentive to join in the first place…

  5. Rad Geek

    Mike,

    You’re right that there are lots of epicycles that the HOA could work into the contract in order to make it less fragile. (And that the cost would be a reduced incentive to join in the first place.)

    But I don’t think that a simple you-abandon-it-we-get-it clause would do. If property really is abandoned by its current owner, then I don’t think that the HOA gets an automatic claim on it, even if the owner contractually agreed to cede it back to them; if some squatters get to the abandoned property first, then there’s no reason why they should be bound to recognize the HOA’s claims on the land (which, after all, they never agreed to, and which the HOA has — ex hypothesi — not yet followed up with actual occupancy and use). The HOA may then have a claim for damages against the former landowner, for breaching his contract with the HOA, but they have no claim on the land itself.

    Now, the HOA could institute some kind of requirement that land be ceded back to the HOA if the current owner is doing things that look like they’re about to reach the point of abandonment, then they can be evicted and property transferred over to the HOA. But then for the HOA to maintain ownership of the almost-abandoned lot they just got, they will still need to do something in order to keep the land under development and use. After all, HOAs can abandon property just as well as single owners, and if they don’t do anything with the land they’ve just been ceded, then the process would merely have been lengthened by one step: (1) current HOA-bound owner cedes the property back to the HOA by not doing anything with it; (2) HOA abandons the property by not doing anything with it; (3) property is now available for homesteading.

    Of course, the HOA could then try to develop procedures in order to make sure that abandoned land is snapped up rather than thrown open — say, maintaining a waiting list of people ready to move in, or keeping demolition and maintenance crews on staff to convert abandoned properties into parks or bed-and-breakfasts or whatever. And, while they’re at it, they’d also have to maintain some kind of professional busybody apparatus to go around in order to detect when a current owner is no longer maintaining her property and it’s about to reach the point of abandonment, so they’ll know when to send the eviction notice and send out the work crew (or call the waiting-list, or whatever). But maintaining the staff and the arrangements that would be necessary to do all this would also dramatically increase the fixed costs of maintaining the HOA — again, reducing the incentive to join initially, and also increasing the likelihood that the HOA as a whole will go bust under the financial pressure of trying to maintain its territorial integrity.

  6. Mike

    “If property really is abandoned by its current owner, then I don’t think that the HOA gets an automatic claim on it, even if the owner contractually agreed to cede it back to them.”

    Well, sure, but I think you’re muddling the phrase “owner” in this instance. You’re correct that in order for a lot to be truly “abandoned” it must be abandoned by its rightful owner, and that if this is done no third party may have any claim on it other than by homesteading it, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate description of this case. If owner A agrees that, under certain circumstances, his home will become the property of HOA B, then “abandonment” is not really an option for him. The home will have been voluntarily ceded by him to the HOA, as per the contract.

    “After all, HOAs can abandon property just as well as single owners, and if they don’t do anything with the land they’ve just been ceded, then the process would merely have been lengthened by one step: (1) current HOA-bound owner cedes the property back to the HOA by not doing anything with it; (2) HOA abandons the property by not doing anything with it; (3) property is now available for homesteading.”

    Is (2) necessarily true? I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the mutualist “use and occupancy” provision, mostly because I find it vague and non-time specific, but I’m open to having my mind changed on the issue.

    Obviously, property can be abandoned. If I leave my house and put a big “ABANDONED” sign on the front door, any reasonable person could see that that house is fair game. I don’t fully subscribe to the Lockean notion of “perpetual ownership,” I think there clearly can be a case of implied abandonment (letting land sit fallow for years on end would probably count, but letting an unsold house remain unoccupied while looking for a higher bidder would not, I think), but I’m also not sure immediate use and occupancy would be necessary for the HOA to maintain its claim. A simple sign stating “Property of XYZ Homeowners Association” seems like it would be sufficient in this case, as the property has been voluntarily ceded by the original owner.

    Regardless, I agree that such explicit contracts would likely be fairly rare in a free society. If you need to contractually obligate you neighbor not to paint his house purple, under penalty of ceding his home to you, it probably says more about you than your rude neighbor.

  7. Gabriel

    Interesting comments Charles, but I think the best critique that left anarchist/commies have made against the Rothbard/Lockean system is that large corporations would be able to homestead more land faster than anybody else. Imagine a large, aggressive corporation like Blackwater terrorizing the countryside after homesteading an area the size of Las Vegas with their army of serfs. :(

  8. scineram

    The area of Las Vegas is a pixel on my map.

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