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By Tim Worstall : BIO| 22 Jun 2020
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We've just had the first anniversary of the Kelo decision (your property is your property but only if, like, no one else will pay more taxes on it) and the blog Division of Labour has a listing of what those fine upstanding citizens, the local and State governments of the country, have been doing with it. My favorite was the first one listed:

"In Hercules, CA, the city council on May 23, 2006, unanimously voted to seize property acquired by Wal-Mart, in order to prevent the retail giant from opening a store in town."

Wonderful, don't you think? The fortunate citizens of Hercules are spared the pain of too much choice, of $2 jars of pickles and cheap orange juice, those thousands who would have applied for jobs can now stay where they are -- no need for them to trouble themselves.

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.

As the excellent blog, The Last Ditch (from whom I have taken some of the information for this piece) notes:

"It would be unconstitutional here in Russia, which is not exactly the gentlest state in the world. Russians I have discussed it with cannot believe it has been accepted without public disorder in a country which they tend to think of as a bastion of private property rights."

I, too, have lived in Russia and I agree, this perverse law would astonish all and any there. While "An Englishman's word is his bond" may no longer be true for all of us (but believe me, in the early 90s in Moscow it was believed sufficiently fervently by so many Russians that we were able to operate purely upon our word) and that lesson has been learnt, the idea that an Englishman's home was not his castle any more would simply not make sense.

Yet the worst of all of this is not that property rights are being eroded, that we are one further step away from the freedoms they impart; the worst is in the penultimate word of the name of the new law: order.

In the UK's parliamentary system we have primary legislation: while being discussed this would be "The End of Freedom Bill" and when passed, the "Screw the Private Property Act". Bill denotes something that is going to be debated in Parliament, must pass the House of Commons, be debated again in the House of Lords and pass that house. After the Monarch's signature it becomes the law of the land and is referred to as an "Act". However, many newer such Acts contain provisions for secondary legislation. This started out as a way to allow the details to be filled in later but is now used to grant wide-ranging powers to Ministers to do as they wish. An order is simply slipped into the machinery of Parliament, is not debated, is often not even noticed, and becomes law 30 days after it was first printed (unless there is such a hue and cry that it is withdrawn).

So from that word "order" in the title we can see that this has not in fact been debated, has not been considered, it is a purely administrative piece of law creation: it is the executive deciding to appropriate our property without even asking our elected representatives.

Purely by coincidence, the pen name of the author of The Last Ditch is Tom Paine, something of a good name to remember from the history of liberty. It's about now that the original would have started calling for a bloody revolution isn't it?

Tim Worstall is a TCS contributing writer living in Europe.

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