How property owners harmed by the riots could sue the negligent

How property owners harmed by the riots could sue the negligent governments that allowed the damage


By Marie Richter

Property owners who have suffered great losses in the course of recent riots and chaos in American cities should be able to sue for just compensation.  It is called inverse condemnation which is the flip-side of eminent domain.  Property rights are a cornerstone of the American system and are protected constitutionally from government overreach.   The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments include Due Process Clauses and the Takings Clause, which are the bedrock of constitutionally protected private property rights, wherein we are not to be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” … “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Government sets forth regulations (rules and directives) to further the public interest.  If the regulation results in full or partial economic loss to private property, the owner can file an inverse condemnation claim in order to pursue just compensation from the government.  This falls under the domain of a regulatory taking.  In takings cases, the balancing test between the public benefit and burden placed on the individual private property owner is the focal point of court challenges.  Just compensation by the government is required if the regulation is deemed as having gone too far.   

In U.S. communities adversely affected by the unrest, riots, and increased crime, some property owners are carrying a disproportionate burden of the fallout, which is a consequence of public actions.  There is a nexus between the rules and directives of elected officials in these areas and the promulgation of riots and increased crime.  Social justice is the public purpose used to justify the defund-the-police actions and stand-down police orders.  Even the right to mass protest in support of the social-justice-public-purpose agenda is overtly endorsed by many of these public officials, while virtually all other activities are limited or eliminated during the pandemic lock downs.

Riot damage in Minneapolis (YouTube screen grab)

Takings law has a complex history and terrain.  Yet the underlying truth in these tumultuous times is the rule of law is under assault, and as a result private property has been destroyed and devalued.   The U.S. Constitution sets forth specific rights and protections, and our elected officials are the sworn stewards of ensuring this constitutional shelter weathers the storms of danger and attack on the well-being of the citizenry.   When elected officials ignore the safeguards necessary for upholding these rights, or even worse, promote antithetical measures, diminution of private property value and erosion of individual rights abounds.

Devastated property owners should have an avenue of recourse beyond battening down the hatches hoping to ride out the storm.  Justice could mean just compensation through inverse condemnation.

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