Property Police Bill Stalls

March 21, 2012

Inside Insight

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private property fence rope

Bill would allow government to take your land and charge you for it

If, as American abolitionist once wrote, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, pro-freedom South Carolinians have had a busy 2012.

Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to “recommit” proposed legislation; derisively called the “Property Police Bill” by detractors, to subcommittee.

“This effectively kills the bill,” according to Lexington County resident Talbert Black of the Campaign for Liberty.

Sponsored by Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Horry, and Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, S. 235 would have authorized South Carolina counties to adopt ordinances forcing property owners to keep their lots or properties “clean and free of rubbish, debris, and other unhealthy and unsightly material or conditions that constitute a public nuisance.”

This action comes on the heels of Lexington County Council’s decision to scrap a proposed ordinance designed “to protect and enhance the character, appearance, and image of Lexington County through attractive and creative landscape design and open space; to ensure land-use compatibility through proper use of vegetation and open space as transition areas and screening; and to preserve scenic, canopied tree corridors while balancing the needs and demands of a quickly developing community,” according to the county website.

In a nutshell, yards and landscaped areas would have had to be kept neat, buildings maintained and swimming pools kept up so that mosquitos couldn’t use them as breeding grounds.

It didn’t sit well with many in Lexington county.

“The whole thing is an outrage,” Lexington County resident Paul Graham said shortly before Lexington County Council shelved the controversial plan on Feb. 28. “That the government would assume that they could dictate to a property owner details of how that individual’s property should be maintained is a gross abuse of power.”

Several groups worked together to defeat the Lexington County proposal, including Campaign for Liberty, the Lexington Tea Party, the Columbia Tea Party and the Lexington 912 Project, according to Black.

Originally, a public hearing on the proposal was scheduled for March 27, but Black said public outcry forced county leaders to drop the proposal.

But he added that South Carolinians are not out of the woods on this particular type of property-rights’ intrusion.

“It is possible for (S. 235) to be brought back up if we don’t remain vigilant,” he said.

In addition, earlier this year a bill was introduced in the S.C. House that, if passed, would enable municipalities to seize and even demolish properties “not in substantial compliance with one or more municipal ordinances.”

Known as the Rehabilitation of Abandoned and Dilapidated Buildings Act, H. 4628 is sponsored by Garry R. Smith, R-Greenville. A companion bill, S. 1117, has been introduced by Brad Hutto in the Senate.

“(The bill) will allow the city or county to take your property if you don’t keep it up to city and county ordinances and transfer ownership to someone who will,” Black said.