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Whose property rights

One of the flaws with a lot of “property rights” arguments is that only one type of property interests – one type of rights – tends to be addressed, and complexities of real-world real estate get missed. Consider the case of the owner of a manufactured home park at Wilsomville.

Wilsonville is on the southern edge of the Portland metro area – about as far away from downtown as commuters en masse will live – and it is surrounded by some of the area’s classiest and highest-priced property (million-dollar horse estates and the like). For some years Roger Ash has owned a manufactured housing park called the Thunderbird Mobile Club, which has provided spaces for about 270 of what used to be called “mobile homes.” How, because the property could be much more valuable used for high-end housing or other purposes, he wants to sell.

Call it a rare case of a newer euphemism turning out to be more accurate than the old description. These manufactured homes may technically be moveable, but not much more easily than a stick-built. And if you try to move them, you’ll discover the limitations on where, since many jurisdictions no longer allow them to be moved into the city or county. If you own a manufactured home which is situated at a park, the only practical way you may be able to leave it is to sell it to its next owner, at the same place. Most states (including those in the northwest) have laws coveirng “mobile home parks,” but most of those laws are sorely in need of revision.

Ash’s desire to sell is understandable, and you can get his frustration when he bumped into a new Wilsonville ordinance. It says that owners of parks like Ash’s have to obtain a city permit before closing, and are responsible for finding a similar kind of place for their residents to move. If they can’t, the owners have to buy out the owners of the homes. There is a trap door of sorts, allowing the owner to appeal the terms to the city.

Ash has challenged the ordinance in court, on grounds it is impinging on his property rights – he’s being barred from selling his property.

And so he is. But the alternative seems to involve property rights of the 270 residents, who would be put to great expense and difficulty, and loss of their property, so that Ash can exercise his property rights. The question may come up: What makes his property rights superior to theirs?

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