Charlestown, Indiana: The Robber Baron City Government
Indiana passed laws restricting eminent domain -- the ability for government to force citizens to sell their property, supposedly for the public good (but also used to yank people's property and hand it over to developers, under the color of law).
Well, when one sleazy way to take what doesn't belong to the government falls, another seems to rise up in its place.
Scott Shackford writes at Reason:
The mayor and city officials of Charlestown, Indiana, a rural community with a population of less than 8,000, are trying to arrange to hand over hundreds of homes to a private developer. He's not using eminent domain to do so. Instead, the city stands accused of deliberately finding excuses to burden the community's residents with thousands of dollars of fines that will be waived if they sell their properties to the private developer.
The property-rights-defending lawyers of the Institute for Justice (you may recall their efforts to stop abuse of civil asset forfeiture) are stepping in to represent several property owners in this community and are seeking an injunction to stop the city from trying to use code violation citations to essentially force property transfers.
From the Institute for Justice:
The citations state that the owner accrues penalties of $50 per violation, per day. Multiple citations are issued per property, which means that a single property will begin accumulating hundreds of dollars in fines each day. The fines can be for things as minor as a torn screen, weeds taller than eight inches or chipped paint. In many cases, the fines begin the day the citation was issued, not the day the owner received it. So owners can easily be on the hook for thousands of dollars in fines before they even receive notice, and the fines continue to accrue until the owner is able to repair the property.
The city knows that many of the residents cannot afford to pay these exorbitant fines, leaving them only two options: Sell their home to Neace Ventures or raze it to the ground to have the fines waived. The scheme would be bad enough if Neace were offering fair market value for the homes, but it is not. The inspections regime has been a windfall for Neace. Not only has it compelled more than 140 homeowners to sell--it has also forced them to sell at a considerable loss. Most of the homes have a tax assessed value of between $25,000 and $35,000, and they would be worth much more if the city had not caused the market to collapse by announcing in 2014 that it was going to destroy every home.
This is obscene and theft -- lipsticked up to look like willing real estate deals.