No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." These words from the Bill of Rights guarantee the security of home ownership and the basic right to own, transfer and use real property.
Our nation's concept of private property rights evolved from English Common Law, which, to a large extent, was patterned after ancient Roman law. Such laws have stood the test of time and courts, and were strongly supported by the American colonists.
Property rights were well established by the time George Washington became our first president. Washington remarked that "lands are of permanent value; there is scarcely a possibility of their falling in price, but almost a moral certainty of their rising exceedingly in value."
However, we don't have the absolute right to exercise these rights as freely as we may wish. Just as most property is subject to some limitations, so are property rights controlled by some necessary restrictions. These restrictions may be thought of as protections that enhance property and safeguard its value.
American property rights and privileges are limited or restricted by certain powers of government. The first, power of taxation, is the government's right to tax property based on assessed value and the prevailing tax rate.
The power of eminent domain is taking private property in the public interest. "Just compensation" is required when property is appropriated. Affected property owners participate in the legal processes to ensure that compensation is just.
Police power is the right of the government to regulate property for the protection of the public's safety, health, morals and general welfare. Zoning laws, housing restrictions, building codes and subdivision controls are examples of regulations based upon the police power of the government.
Because we, as Americans, enjoy more political and economic freedom than any other people on earth, this nation must guard against taking for granted the rights inherent in home ownership. All citizens should be aware of local government regulations affecting private property. I encourage you to attend city council meetings. Know your local property issues, such as zoning and taxation.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "Real estate cannot be lost or stolen, nor can it be carried away. Purchased with common sense and managed with reasonable care, it is about the safest investment in the world."
While this remains true today, the dream of home ownership can be fulfilled only if we continue to protect our private property rights.