Table of Contents

Building Permits, Codes, Zoning & Eminent Domain

43. Building Permits

Residential landowners should be required to get city permission or ‘permits’ only for property or structural changes that either potentially affect the safety or property of neighbors (such a placing pools upslope from neighboring properties), affects the number of housing units on the property (such as converting single family properties into duplexes), affect the utility meters on the property, changes that would intrude on spaces at the edges of the property (such as building or placing anything that would permanently remain higher than 20 feet (6 meters) above the ground surface of the property, or digging that would disturb soil deeper than 10 feet (3 meters) below the ground surface, or building structures within the buffer zones at the edges of the property).

For perhaps every other major property change, permits should not be required, although the residents would be required to notify the city within one year of the completion of any major changes. For example, all of the following changes would not need to be permitted, but homeowners/property owners would be required to report them to the appropriate government agency: any changes in wall placement in building (this includes both internal and external walls), major structural changes that don’t involve walls (such as concrete porch extensions, patio decking, gazeboes, permanent BBQ kitchens, trellis coverings, carports, low walls/railings (over 2 feet high), swimming pools/hot tubs (permanent), boundary line fence installation/replacement, skylight installation, changes in the number of toilets, showers/tubs, sinks on property, major changes in room usage (converted garages, guest room changed to home office, etc.). Resurfacing (not patch repairs) of sidewalks (because it is government property), and flagpole installation in the front yard (because they are so eye-catching and visible), and drilling water wells should also require permits.

To remind homeowners that they need to report these changes within one year, perhaps a one-page form could be included with annual tax documents mailed to all property owners. Regardless of how they are reminded, pictures of the change(s) should be mailed to the appropriate government agency along with a brief description of the change. Contractors who perform these changes could also remind homeowners, in writing, that they need to report the changes.

Every home owner/property owner should have access to an updated digital copy of the floor plans and designs available on this government agency’s database.


44. Eminent Domain

The owner of property acquired through the power of eminent domain should be compensated with more than the fair market value of the property. Depending on several things like the willingness of the owner to sell the property, the amount of time the owner has owned or has been living on the property, the amount of ‘history’ the owner has experienced on the property (raising a family, got married on the property, etc.), maybe up to twice or even as much as three or four times the fair market value of the property should be offered in some cases. The courts should be the final arbiters for determining the actual amount awarded to property owners. Standardized guidelines should be created and consulted so that the courts and everyone else involved could have a general idea regarding how much of an economic value each ‘historical’ event that took place on the property would be worth.

Governments should only be allowed to use their powers of eminent domain to purchase properties for public ownership and for public uses. However, governments could, without using its powers of eminent domain, voluntarily purchase properties for any use, including with the intention of reselling it to private developers, if the governments and current property owners could come to a negotiated agreement over the purchase price.

If, properties obtained through the powers of eminent domain, were later decided to not be used for public purposes, then, before such non-public uses are permitted, the original owners should be given the priority to exercise the option of repurchasing the land at current market prices.


45. Neighborhood Fencing

The maximum allowable height for fencing around private property should be 8 feet. This fence height would be allowable only beginning 5 feet further back behind the minimum allowable setback from the front property line. A 6-foot fence should be allowed beginning at the minimum allowable setback and continuing to the rear of the property. A 4-foot fence height should be allowed throughout the front of the property. Exemptions could be made to allow for higher fences, but convincing reasons should be submitted to the government for approval.


46. Residential Side Yard Buffers

All residential properties with frontages of at least 20 meters (60 feet) should have side yard buffers of 3 meters (9 feet) on each side of their property adjoining other residential properties. (Front and rear yards would not be effected.) Residential properties with frontages of between 14 and 20 meters (42-60 feet) should be required to maintain buffers equivalent to 15% of the property frontage length on both sides of the property. Properties with frontages less than 14 meters (42 feet) should be required to maintain buffers on each side equivalent to 10% of the property width. These buffer zone, which are slightly increased over the normal 5-foot buffer zone average for residential side yards, would help reduce the amount of noise traveling across property lines and allow more sunlight in the areas between the houses. Existing buildings would naturally not be required to comply with these buffers. However, any new construction or renovation would be required to abide by these new buffer spacing requirements.


47. Threshold for Requiring Changes under Disability Laws

Disability laws should require all new and (during the next major remodeling) existing commercial and residential structures to be changed to accommodate those with disabilities only if the proposed changes would significantly benefit more than one percent of the total affected population or if a current occupant needs the accommodation and if the expense of compliance is within reason in relation to the benefit provided. (The total affected population is defined as the total potential population that is most likely to purchase, rent or otherwise significantly use the facility.)

Tenants could be required to pay for any compliance changes, and the owner could choose who makes those changes, but the tenant should not be responsible for paying more than the average bid for the necessary work to be performed. The property owner would be required to pay the rest.

Existing commercial and residential structures should not be required to comply with disability laws as a prerequisite to the sale of that structure.


48. Existing Structures: Disability/Environmental Mandates

No level of government should have a right to require that private existing residential properties be made accessible to people with disabilities at any time, including during a sale of the property. Neither should they have the authority to demand that any other property (either new residential or existing or new commercial) be made accessible to people with disabilities unless more than one percent of the total population share some disability that would benefit from the mandates.

In addition, no level of government should be allowed to mandate the use of any resource efficiency device, like low-flow toilets or showerheads. Governments could encourage the use of certain devices, but it should always be left up to the consumer to decide how efficient they choose to be. If resource prices are set correctly, then nobody should care how much somebody chooses to waste.


49. Building Guidelines in Hurricane Prone Areas

All structures in hurricane prone areas, specifically the coastal counties in which at least part lie within 100 miles of the ocean in the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, must be built to withstand winds of at least 100 MPH without sustaining any significant structural damage or shedding debris resulting from the high winds themselves.

Airports and seaports/harbors should both provide for the safety of aircraft and boats/ships from direct wind and wave damage from hurricanes with wind speeds of up to 100 mph and/or they should have a policy of flying or sailing their craft to safer places, most probably out of the path of the hurricane.


50. Public Restroom Requirement

Businesses, public or private complexes, shopping malls, etc., with an average daily flow of over 1,000 people should be required to have at least one restroom. Areas with average daily flow rates of over 2,000 people should be required to have either two separate unisex restrooms or one male restroom and one female restroom. Areas with average daily flow rates of over 2,500 people should be required to have twice as many female stalls (toilets) as male stalls (toilets).

The government should be required to provide at least two public unisex restroom facilities within commercial districts within half a kilometer of each other or within half a kilometer of the nearest mandated commercial or business public restroom facilities.

All mandated public restroom facilities should also be required to have drinking water fountains.


51. Settling Competing Land Claims

In areas such as the Western United States, there are several locations where the ownership of the land is in question. More specifically, for example, there was an article in the USA Today newspaper (12-15-00) that talked about the confusion that began under an 1872 mining law that encouraged settlement of the West by giving land away to people who had done at least a minimal amount of mining on the land. The miners could then apply for a ‘mining patent’ and, once granted, the land was legally theirs. The problem was that several different government agencies were involved in the process of issuing ‘mining patents’. These government agencies kept their own separate map records and often did not compare their maps with each other as often or as accurately as they should have, due, in part, to the rapid claiming and settlement of the land in those days. Problems arose when miners, who had applied for and obtained ‘mining patents’, were given land that overlapped claims that had already been deeded to previous patent holders. Other problems arose when patent holders, who needed workers to work in their mines, had given permission (I assume to have been temporary/conditional) to build their homes on property owned by the miners holding the patent rights to the land.  Eventually, the mining activity died out, but the people continued to live on the land.  Counties just started listing the new properties on their tax rolls creating this dual ownership confusion.

Probably the best way to clear up this mess would be as follows. First, only original, official land claims (mining patents) would be honored while successive mining patents would not.  Successive patent holders (or their legal descendants) should have the option to buy their disputed land from the original patent holders (or their legal descendants) if they want to sell, for the fair market value of the land only, excluding any improvements or developments.  If the successive patent holders (or their legal descendants) want to buy the land, the government (or whatever agency was responsible for giving rise to this problem) would be the party required to pay the original patent holders (or their legal descendant) for the cost of the land.

Similarly, original settlers or legal descendants to whom the property has been gifted, and who have been paying taxes on it should also be allowed to buy the land (if the original owner wants to sell) with the government paying the bill.  But since these people never did legally own the land, the government should cap their payment to the original patent holder to an amount equal to the total property taxes that have been paid by that parcel since the very beginning.  The current residents would need to pay the rest, if necessary.

In cases where such parcels were sold by someone not holding a deed for the parcel and the current occupants have paid the full market price of the parcel (land and development), the government should bare the full cost (land only) required to satisfy the original patent holder for the land in dispute.

If the land is currently in use by a successive patent holder, the original owner would have the right to begin an eviction.  However, such evictions must be orderly and must provide the current occupant with plenty of time (up to 10 years) to vacate the land, depending on its current use and the specifics of each case.  In cases of eviction, the government should pay the successive patent holders (or their legal descendants) for the cost of the improvements to that land.  If the original settlers or their legal descendants or others who similarly have never held any deed to the property are evicted, the government should pay them the equivalent of the amount of property taxes that have been paid by that parcel since the beginning to compensate them for losing the benefits of the developments to the land.

If the patent holders’ official deed records issued by the government have been lost and no alternative methods exist for practically reconstructing these records, then the government (through the courts, if necessary) should try to authenticate the deed claims and ascribe a probability of such claims being true.  For example, if the government determines that their is a 50% chance of the deed claim being true, then the holder of the claim should be allowed to sell that land for 50% of the current value of the land only.  This would exclude the value of any developments or improvements unless, of course, the original patent holder (or a legal descendant) actually developed or improved the land.

The original patent holders would have the right to ask any squatter on their land to leave. But as punishment to patent holders who have not actively and continuously contested the presence of squatters or informed them of their illegal residence, the patent holder must compensate the squatter for all the improvements (buildings, etc.) made on the land at full market rates and cannot force the squatter to remove them. If patent holders did actively contest the land for a long time to both the government and residents alike, these patent holders should not be required to compensate the current land users the full amount but only maybe 25% with the government picking up the rest of the bill for land improvements. It would be wrong to force people to leave their homes and businesses without proper compensation after living often large portions of their lives on lands whose ownership was not clearly contested by others or properly recorded and enforced by the government.