Zoning Laws

Zoning laws are government regulated restrictions on how a particular piece of land can be used. The zones can be of any type, including housing, financial, and industry. These laws are at least partially an attempt to solve a very real problem. If people by a house in a residential area, they do not want a loud or polluting factory to be opened next door to them. The problem is not the creation of a factory, per se. It's the damage done to the original owners. A house becomes unusable if the sound, smell, or air quality around it is suddenly changed.

Zoning laws are a heavy-handed remedy for this problem, though. Nuisance laws have existed long before zoning laws, and remedy the problem more directly. Zoning laws are merely a method of increasing power in the hands of bureaucrats. They are a direct violation of property rights. Through the use of force, they can specify how people can or cannot use their property.

Nuisance laws, on the other hand, only apply when there is a conflict between two parties. They specify that if one person, by the legitimate use of their property, disrupts the legitimate use of property by another, he must cease and/or pay restitution. If however, the person who is claimed to be disrupting others was there first, practicing the same behavior, then he can continue. An example is a pig farmer who stinks up the surrounding area. If he lives out away from the rest of the world, he is not disturbing anyone. If others move out to live near him, and then complain about the smell, they have to live with it. He was there first.

Thus, an objective, proper standard of evaluation is possible under nuisance laws. Zoning laws, though, are necessarily arbitrary. If someone wants to start a factory in an area, and none of the neighbors who it would directly affect mind (and they may even want him to), he may still be disallowed by zoning laws. They are non-objective, arbitrary power. Inevitably the power gets abused.

The major abuse is called "city planning". The bureaucrats decide that they can better our lives through central planning. They proceed to zone and re-zone areas, violating the rights of the citizens, and disrupting the lives of anyone who doesn't fit into their plan. The goal or theme of the plans differ over time. Currently, the theme is "fighting urban sprawl", which means forcing everyone to live in the city instead of in the suburbs, where there is more room, privacy, and scenery.

Copyright 2001 by Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands