Imagine you must temporarily relocate. Perhaps you are called to care for a sick relative. Or perhaps you lose your job and obtain one elsewhere. Or perhaps you permanently move but have trouble selling your home.
How would you pay your mortgage?
You would do what people as far back as the Romans have done with their property: You would rent it out.
Such rentals are a time-honored tradition. But the right to rent out your home is now in jeopardy across Minnesota. Winona, Mankato, Northfield and, more recently, West St. Paul now forbid some people from renting their homes.
In Winona, no more than 30 percent of the homes on any block may be offered as rental properties. That means that if you live on a block with 10 houses, only three homeowners may obtain rental licenses. It is called the "30 percent rule." West St. Paul has a draconian "10 percent rule." So far these laws are unique to Minnesota, but cities in other states are undoubtedly watching.
Today, four homeowners in Winona -- Ethan Dean, Holly Richard and Ted and Lauren Dzierzbicki -- are teaming up with the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, a public interest law firm, to challenge the law in state court because it violates the Minnesota Constitution's guarantee to be secure in your property.
Life circumstances change, and homeowners need the flexibility to rent out their homes. Ethan Dean is working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan; Holly Richard is pursuing a Ph.D. in South Dakota and expecting her first child. Both want to rent their homes instead of selling at huge losses. But because they live on blocks where no new rental licenses can be granted, they risk foreclosure.
Why is Winona allowed to restrict the property rights of some for the benefits of others? Because for too long the courts failed to protect our property rights. They allowed the other branches of government to overstep the constitutional constraints on their power, including their power over your private property.
Judicial abdication has been gathering steam for decades. First, the courts approved overreaching zoning laws, allowing local government to mandate what you can do and build on your own property, even beyond restrictions legitimately designed to protect the public's health and safety. Then the courts found no problem with taking your property and giving it to a private developer, a long trend that culminated in the infamous 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo vs. New London. Recently, the Minnesota courts have also ruled the government may conduct intrusive inspections of rental properties without presenting evidence there is anything wrong with it.
What a judge should do, when faced with an intrusion on property rights, is simple: Engage with the facts of each case, rather than simply giving the government the benefit of the doubt.
Fortunately for Minnesota property owners, the tide is starting to turn. Instead of rubber-stamping laws that violate the Constitution's guarantee to be secure in your property, judges are now requiring the government to justify its actions with real reasons backed by real evidence. Just last year, for example, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the property owners when a government airport destroyed some of the value of their nearby land.
Ethan Dean, Holly Richard and Ted and Lauren Dzierzbicki are hoping that their property rights will be respected and that soon they and others will be allowed to decide for themselves whether to rent out their homes as others have done for centuries.
Minnesota is ground zero in this fight. Unconstitutional laws like rental bans should not be allowed to spread across the state, or the nation.
Anthony Sanders is an attorney with the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter. The organization describes itself as the nation's only libertarian public interest law firm.