For decades, cities have pressed for more and more power to control how citizens make use of their private property – and, unfortunately, courts generally let the cities impose whatever restrictions they want.
So part of the goal of public interest litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri is to find situations so bizarre and egregious that the courts have to reevaluate the way they think about a particular area of law. Now they believe they have found just such a situation, because the City of St. Peters, Missouri, is currently demanding that the city’s homeowners must dedicate at least half of their yard to cultivating and maintaining “turf grass.”
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Whatever happened to property owner rights?
As Director of Litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri Dave Roland explained:
“One of our clients, Janice Duffner, is allergic to grass, and several years ago she and her husband made their entire yard into a beautiful, weed- and grass-free flower garden. When a neighbor complained that their flower garden did not comply with the city’s turf grass mandate, the Duffners asked the city to grant them a variance so they would not have to tear up part of the garden they worked so hard to create, and so that Janice would not have to suffer unnecessarily from exposure to grass pollen.
The city reduced the percentage of their yard that must be planted with grass, but demanded that the grass be placed in the Duffners’ front or side yard – a requirement not found in the law and which the city has not imposed on anyone else. If the Duffners fail to comply with the city’s turf grass mandate, city law says they will face fines of between $100-$500 and/or imprisonment for 10 days, with each day of noncompliance counting as a separate punishable offense.
This is one of the most absurd, flagrant violations of property rights I have ever seen. As far as we know, no court in the country has confronted this question of whether a property owner can be compelled, on pain of extortionate fines and imprisonment, to plant a government-dictated plant, over an arbitrary percentage of their property, and in a government-dictated location. This is just the sort of case that may prompt judges (and the general public) to realize that we desperately need courts to enforce constitutional protections for property rights.”
One’s own property is an extension of his or her life, energy, and ingenuity. Therefore, to destroy, confiscate or even impose ridiculous regulations on property like this, in reality, is an attack on the very essence of life.
Our Founders had a great deal to say about property and property rights because it was a critical issue leading to the Revolutionary War. Many of them saw private property as the most important single foundation stone undergirding human liberty and human happiness. In fact, John Adams once said:
“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. PROPERTY MUST BE SECURED OR LIBERTY CANNOT EXIST.”
So, how exactly is property secured when cities are always dictating what owners can and cannot plant in their own backyard?