REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

November 17, 2017

Eminent Domain and Trump’s Wall

By David Reiss

photo by Sandeesledmere

Sucamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall

Mashable quoted me in Sorry, Cards Against Humanity Can’t Stop Trump’s Wall. It opens,

As much as we may want to believe it, a card game company probably can’t save our country.

This week, owners of the irreverent (and kind of obnoxious, imo) Cards Against Humanity game unveiled their annual PR stunt and it has higher aspirations than last year’s pointless hole.

As part of the Cards Against Humanity Saves America campaign, it announced the purchase of “acres of land” on the U.S.-Mexico border and promised not to build a wall on it.

Going further, the company said that it had retained the services of legal representation specializing in property rights, “to make it as time-consuming and expensive as possible for the wall to get built.”

Sounds good, right? Guess there won’t be a wall!

Not so fast, patriots.

The government has a big ace up its sleeve when it comes to taking land from property owners. It’s called “eminent domain” and it’s right there in the constitution’s Fifth Amendment, below the part that people always talk about on lawyer shows. The Fifth Amendment states the government can’t take “private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

But it can still take land for public use, and it almost always does.

Government is mightier than the card game

The several law professors we talked to all came to the same forgone conclusion: the government will ultimately take that land from Cards Against Humanity.

“The power of eminent domain is considered to be a fundamental power of any government to use,” Professor of Law David Reiss at Brooklyn Law school said. And in this case, given the limited facts that were available to him, “ultimately the government would succeed.”

Over the past several decades, the judicial definition of eminent domain has expanded broadly. Historically, governmental use of eminent domain would fall under the umbrella of public use by using the acquired land to build a road or build a hospital. That’s changed in recent years, as the blanket phrase of “public use” has been used in eminent domain cases to include razing blighted urban areas or if the land could be seen as encouraging economic development.

Richard Epstein, Professor of Law at NYU, emphatically agreed that Cards Against Humanity would not stand much of a chance. Legally speaking, he saw, “the wall [will be seen] as a public good. There’s nothing you could do to resist them taking the land.”

Lynn E. Blais, Real Property Law Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, also thought that the government would easily win, but acknowledged how Cards Against Humanity could make an impact.

“They can’t stop the border wall for sure,” Blais said. Legally speaking, “it’s clearly for public use [but] they can challenge the process at every step if they want. That could take a long long time.”

And just as the company mentions in its announcement, it hopes to get in the way and meddle up Trump’s plans to build a wall, at least in that one plot of land it purchased. That delay tactic might prove exceptionally effective.

“They may not be looking to stop it, but merely to delay it. Delay can be very powerful. Sometimes delay can be as effective as winning the case,” Reiss said. “With enough money, it can be delayed for years.”

Did CAH fall down at the starting line? 

A few of the legal experts we talked to were adamant that Cards Against Humanity, in openly alluding to the fact that they hoped to make the wall construction “as time-consuming and expensive as possible,” invariably hurt their chances to gain favor with a judge. Basically, in flipping Trump off through a land buy, they exposed their bias and they might not receive a full case because of it.

“I wonder if they shot themselves in the foot if they admitted this was a delay tactic. Some judges might few that negatively,” Reiss said. “Judges wouldn’t look kindly on admitting delay.”

Epstein was very certain that the company’s promotion would hurt their chances of winning any case the federal government might bring against it.

“They are tacitly admitting that the goal is to block the president,” he said. “It’s one one of the dumber ideas I’ve heard of.”

He was certain that it would only invalidate any defense Cards Against Humanity tried to bring up, seeing as how the company already showed its actual intent. Still, he thought of it as a sign of the times, saying, “One of the consequences from the president acting like a crackpot means you get crackpot solutions.”

Blaise, however, believed the opposite side of this argument, and thought that land owners can do whatever they damn well please.

I don’t think it matters why you don’t want the government to take your land. As a property owner, you get to be as irrational as you want,” she said.

So you’re saying there’s a public use chance…

Even though a prospective case doesn’t look too promising for Cards Against Humanity, it still has avenues it can take to launch a defense of their new land. According to the legal experts we talked to, the most promising defense would be on whether the wall is really for public use. This is given that “public use” in the Fifth Amendment is not terribly defined and that arguments could readily be made that a border wall with Mexico might be more harmful than good.

“Public use is now often an incredibly broad term,” Reiss said. And, should the case go to federal court, the government’s potential case would invoke border security or immigration policy, which Reiss thought a judge would probably find compelling evidence.

November 17, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Thanks to the efforts of many across the U.S., the Senate released a ” modified chairman’s mark” as an edit to the their initial “Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts” proposal. Senate members busied themselves by making a number of changes to its initial proposal. For instance, the new version currently perseveres the  Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit) among other housing initiatives. The Senate’s “Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts” version two, attempts to support affordable housing while saving the country costs for such programs.
  • The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published its annual report to Congress regarding the state of the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund. The annual report notes the FHA’s funds fell by 2.09%, totaling $1.9 billion. The above mentioned evidence supports Obama’s proposal to reduce the “FHA’s annual mortgage insurance premium.

November 17, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

November 9, 2017

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Freedom Debt Relief (Freedom) is in hot water. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) accused the nation’s leading debt settlement entity of lying to its customers. Allegedly, Freedom misled its customers by claiming the entity’s capabilities to settle debt with third parties. Customers were “led to believe Freedom possessed clout” with creditors across the nation. Freedom purported to consumers it could use its clout to settle debt for lower rates than consumers attempting to do such on their own.
  • The Urban Institute (UI) studied housing issues in rural communities across America. The study found rural communities, much like many Americans, cannot afford the housing in their local areas. For instance, Illinois minimum wage is $8.25 per hour; however, in order for one to afford a two-bedroom in Cairo, Illinois he or she must earn $13 per hour. Further, only 25% of housing is available for rent and new constructs are stale and non-existent.

November 9, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

November 8, 2017

Regulatory Approaches to Airbnb

By David Reiss

photo by Open Grid Scheduler

Peter Coles et al. have posted Airbnb Usage Across New York City Neighborhoods: Geographic Patterns and Regulatory Implications to SSRN. Two of the co-authors are affiliated to Airbnb and the other three are affiliated to NYU. The paper states that “No consulting fees, research grants or other payments have been made by Airbnb to the NYU authors . . .” (1) The abstract reads,

This paper offers new empirical evidence about actual Airbnb usage patterns and how they vary across neighborhoods in New York City. We combine unique, census-tract level data from Airbnb with neighborhood asking rent data from Zillow and administrative, census, and social media data on neighborhoods. We find that as usage has grown over time, Airbnb listings have become more geographically dispersed, although centrality remains an important predictor of listing location. Neighborhoods with more modest median household incomes have also grown in popularity, and disproportionately feature “private room” listings (compared to “entire home” listings). We find that compared to long-term rentals, short-term rentals do not appear to be as profitable as many assume, and they have become relatively less profitable over our time period. Additionally, short-term rentals appear most profitable relative to long-term rentals in outlying, middle-income neighborhoods. Our findings contribute to an ongoing regulatory conversation catalyzed by the rapid growth in the short-term rental market, and we conclude by bringing an economic lens to varying approaches proposed to target and address externalities that may arise in this market.

I found the review alternative regulatory approaches to be particularly helpful:

City leaders around the world have adopted a wide range of approaches. We conclude by reviewing these alternative regulatory responses. We consider both citywide as well as neighborhood-specific responses, like those recently enacted in Portland, Maine or in New Orleans. A promising approach from an economic perspective is to impose fees that vary with intensity of usage. For instance, in Portland, Maine, short-term rental host fees increase with the number of units a given host seeks to register, and a recent bill from Representatives in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (H.3454) propose taxes that vary with the intensity of usage of individual units. Such varying fees may help discourage conversions of long-term rentals to short-term rentals and better internalize externalities that might rise with greater use. That said, overly-customized approaches may be difficult to administer. Regulatory complexity itself should also be a criterion in choosing policy responses. (2-3, citations omitted)

We are still a long ways off from knowing how the short-term rental market will be regulated once it fully matures, so work like this helps us see where we are so far.

November 8, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

November 7, 2017

Insuring Sustainable Housing

By David Reiss

photo by Mark Moz

I posted Insuring Sustainable Housing to SSRN (and BePress). The abstract reads,

Today’s FHA suffered from many of the same unrealistic underwriting assumptions that have done in so many lenders during the 2000s. It had also been harmed, like other lenders, by a housing market as bad as any seen since the Great Depression. As a result, the federal government announced in 2013 that the FHA would require the first bailout in its history. At the same time that it faced these financial challenges, the FHA has also come under attack for the poor execution of some of its policies to expand homeownership. Leading commentators have called for the federal government to stop employing the FHA to do anything other than provide liquidity to the low end of the mortgage market. These arguments rely on a couple of examples of programs that were clearly failures but they fail to address the FHA’s long history of undertaking comparable initiatives. This article takes the long view and demonstrates that the FHA has a history of successfully undertaking new homeownership programs. At the same time, the article identifies flaws in the FHA model that should be addressed in order to prevent them from occurring if the FHA were to undertake similar initiatives in the future.

This short article is drawn from Underwriting Sustainable Homeownership: The Federal Housing Administration and The Low Down Payment Loan, 50 GA. L. REV. 1019 (2016).

November 7, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Though the Trump Administration is aiming to dethrone Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s leader, Richard Cordray. Cordray recently was found not guilty for his alleged Hatch Act violation. As a result, the Trump administration will have to determine another way to eject Cordray from office. Furthermore, the Office of Special Counsel found no evidence to convict Cordray of a violation.
  • The Republican’s Tax Reform plan will not pass without a fight. Tax cuts and the Jobs Act will reek havoc on the mortgage industry by decreasing mortgage interest deductions and reducing the time-frames in which a homeowner may claim a capital gains exemption. According to critics, the impact will affect California more than any other state.

November 7, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments