Why Does Kansas City Need More Power to Take Private Property?
The Kansas City Star recently wrote that the city should step up its efforts to deal with more than 12,000 vacant properties in the city. Vacant properties discourage people from moving into neighborhoods, can become dangerous because of brick theft, and can attract criminals.
To combat vacancy, Kansas City passed a law more than a year ago that allows the city to take property that is designated as vacant and a nuisance (meaning it might have overgrown weeds, cars that are damaged or disabled, or, in worse cases, criminal activity) to be taken from the property owner and given to a receiver. The receiver can rehab or bulldoze the property and eventually sell it to a new — and, hopefully, better — owner.
But this law just isn’t the way to fight vacancy. Both Kansas City and Saint Louis can, and do, recover property from owners who have utterly abandoned it. If property owners don’t pay their property taxes for several years, local government can take the property and put it up for sale so that, hopefully, it will be put to more productive use. I am wary of Kansas City using this new power to transfer properties to “better” owners, because it allows the city to seize property that, although vacant, has an owner who is not delinquent on his or her property taxes. If the current owner continues to pay property taxes, he or she is claiming the property explicitly.
Properties in productive use go vacant all the time — a property under construction is not occupied, nor is a property that has been put up for sale. Can you blame people for holding onto a property for a little longer before putting it up for sale in the currently anemic market? Perhaps a better question is, should Kansas City take property from people who are holding out for a better price, or don’t want to sell for some other reason?
The city also has ways to deal with properties that are deemed a “nuisance.” After notifying the property owner, the city can inspect and reinspect the property until the nuisance (say, rotting plant matter) is fixed. If not, the city can even fix the nuisance itself and/or issue a fine.
So, Kansas City has ways to deal both with truly vacant properties and nuisance properties. Why exactly is this receivership law necessary? From here, it looks like the receivership law is an attempt to speed up the process at best (while also deteriorating property rights), and a manipulable ordinance at worst.