Category: Property Law

Relative Deprivation, Location, and Lawdenfreude


As a recent buyer of a “luxury” (read: habitable) condo in a not-so-fashionable precinct of Jersey City, I obsessively read about the “housing bubble.” It’s about as irresistible as kitschy old TV shows. The latest installment is this interesting piece by Dean Baker, arguing for governmental intervention designed to pop the purported bubble “sooner rather than later:”

If mortgage rates were pushed back to more normal levels (e.g., 7 to 8 percent), it would almost certainly lead to a sharp reduction in housing prices. Deliberately destroying trillions of dollars of wealth may seem like perverse policy, but it is important to recognize the context. If there is in fact an unsustainable run-up in housing prices, then the question is not whether prices will fall, but rather when prices will fall. The wealth is not really there. It is an illusion.

Housing economists can have a field day debating the wisdom of this proposition as a policy matter—I defer to their opinions. What piques me is the notion of “illusory wealth.” The housing bubble story reveals something fundamental about “wealth creation” via certain assets that mainstream economic measurement tends to ignore. For the 68% or so of people who own a house, rising real estate prices bring security and well-being. But for the rest, they can cause real anxieties. In many commodities markets, rising prices can induce more suppliers to meet the demand. But in many urban centers, there is little space left next to public transit or desirable amenities. Supply can’t rise to meet demand. So what we really have is a bidding war for prime space. Does this have any implications for law?

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Monument Law


Ah, public monuments. They’re how we remember important events and help define who we think we are. Dan Solove’s recent posts on courthouses reminds me of how much we’re concerned with presenting the right image to communities. And there’s been a lot of writing about the function that courthouse architecture has served in American history. Moreover, lots of folks are writing these days about monuments and their meaning. Sanford Levinson’s charming book, Written in Stone covers a lot of ground in a little bit of space. And people are talking more about removing monuments from parks or renaming them (such as the Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis). Sewanee: The University of South is going through something like this right now.

I haven’t seen any serious commentary (in the blogosphere or elsewhere) on the United Daughters of the Confederacy v. Vanderbilt University, decided last May by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Perhaps, though, it warrants a little bit of attention. It has some things to say about long-term contracts, the right of donees to alter monuments (like changing the names of buildings), and even how we remember the Civil War. The case arose from the effort of Vanderbilt University in 2002 to rename a dormitory on its campus from “Confederate Memorial Hall” to “Memorial Hall.

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A common-law right to attend Eagles games

Also in Eagles news (all strange, all the time) is this story: “Man spreads mother’s ashes on Eagles field.” The man in question, Christopher Noteboom, claims he chose Eagles field because his mother was a lifelong fan of the team. Noteboom is being charged with trespass. The police chief seems unsympathetic to Noteboom’s claims, points out that a number of fans were probably terrified when a strage man began spreading an unknown powder at the football game.

Did Noteboom also secure for himself a right to attend Eagles games? Guest blogger Al Brophy has written about the ancient common-law rights of family members to visit the graves of loved ones. Perhaps Noteboom can offer a settlement — drop the charges, and I won’t press my common-law rights of access to a grave. (And if he does try to press them, we may see a very interesting grave-rights case).

Meanwhile, I’ll be busy this weekend, spreading ashes at the Met, the Philharmonic, Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, the Four Seasons . . .


Images of Property in American Landscape Art

For a number of years I’ve been giving a lecture at the end of the year to my property students about images of property (and particularly development of property) in landscape art. It’s a fun talk, which I give when I realize that folks are tired after nearly a year of law school and need a break from the typical routine. I got the idea from Leo Marx’ Machine in the Garden and then refined it while reading Angela Miller’s Empire of the Eye. I often begin with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature. Something along the lines of:

The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

Then I begin to show some ways that American artists have depicted (and celebrated) our development of land. I use George Inness’ Lackawana Valley (shown below). Look at the machine going through the the fields of cut-stumps; the railroad roundhouse in the background; the smoke stack even further off; what a strange juxaposition (it seems at first) of humans and nature. While it seems strange at first, my point is that landscape art is part of the celebration of human’s use of land.


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Facilitating removal of racist covenants

shelley.jpg An interesting new bill, Assembly Bill No. 394, appears well on its way to becoming law in California. AB 394 is designed to make it easier for property owners to remove racial restrictions and other illegal restrictive covenants from the titles to their property and to other property and other property within their subdivision.

Racial restrictions were declared illegal half a century ago, in Shelley vs. Kraemer. It’s not as if anyone is enforcing them today. But they remain in the titles to many pieces of property, and they serve as a painful reminder of the past. Under current law, property owners can petition to have them removed, but the process is cumbersome and time-consuming, and it affects only single parcels.

AB 394 would provide a streamlined method for removing these covenants from entire subdivisions. Seems like a reasonable idea to me.