Private Property: An Urban Understanding
By Mace Thornton
The farmers and ranchers of America understand the importance of private property and retaining the ability to use that property for food production. Property owner rights are vital to America's system of agriculture.
Often, it is difficult for urban dwellers to relate to a farmer's plight of losing the use of property due to a government regulation or decision. Most urban property owners only have to make sure their grass is mowed and their property is in good upkeep. Seems like a simple thing to do.
Once in a while something occurs inside the beltways and freeways of America's cities that gives urban dwellers a true lesson on the concept of private property.
Eleanor Mellick, a condominium owner in Chicago, certainly understands. She was recently awarded $51,000 in compensatory damages and $166,171 in legal fees due to a portion of her property being taken.
What exactly made Ms. Mellick angry? Her condominium association board decided to narrow her private parking space by 18 inches. Mellick was fighting mad. She filed suit.
After more than three years, total legal fees that amounted to more than $200,000 and a trial that included 20 witnesses and lasted for a combined 18 days, Mellick was able to recover the condo board's "taking."
Her faith in the legal system paid off and her parking space has been repainted, giving her back the 18 inches the condo board brazenly took away. Mellick appreciates the value and importance of private property.
"You have to know what's going on and stick up for what's right," she told the Chicago Tribune.
Like Mellick, America's farmers and ranchers are only asking for what's right. When private property is taken through government regulatory activities, such as preserving wildlife habitat for the public good, fair compensation must be paid.
Whether delineating the size of a parking space or the boundaries of a wetland, when the use of private property is lost – even if it's 18 inches – compensation should be paid. As Mellick would likely tell you, it's only fair.
Mace Thornton is director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.