Assume for a moment that your neighbor is illegally using his property for some type of commercial activity. Let’s assume it’s a barbershop. Can you sue the local government for the diminution in the value of your property as a result of its failure to enforce the local zoning regulations? We looked at a case that is very similar to this a short while back. In Beech v City of Franklin, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the claim against the city, although in that case, the plaintiff only alleged failure to enforce the zoning regulations and asked for mandamus to force the city to enforce the code provisions. The Sixth Circuit emphasized that there was no takings claim made against the city in the original lawsuit which was filed in Chancery Court in Williamson County. As a result, under both state and federal takings law, the case was not ripe for review.
But let’s suppose that such a claim had been made in the Chancery Court. Would the plaintiffs have prevailed? It would certainly seem very difficult from my perspective.
However, there is a very interesting recent article about “Non-Enforcement Takings,” which makes the point that although these types of cases are difficult, to be consistent, non-enforcement takings cases should be reviewed carefully and under the right circumstances may form a justifiable basis for relief. The neighbor complaining about the barbershop is a good example: certainly, having a barbershop next door to your residential property may cause a significant decrease in the value of the land, may increase noise, traffic, and cause other harm to the property owner. It is difficult however usually to get the courts to seriously review such claims.
The article is by Tim Mulvaney, Non-Enforcement Takings (February 20, 2018). Boston College Law Review, Vol. 59, No. 145, 2018, and is available at SSRN.
Of course, the property owner can sue the neighboring property owner for nuisance, including a request for damages and injunctive relief. Perhaps in the case of a failure to enforce the zoning regulations by the local government, there is the possibility of an additional takings claim? Obviously, one of the counter arguments is the extent to which such failure to enforce takings cases might subject the local government to an onslaught of damage claims.
The article is quite interesting and certainly the argument is worth considering seriously.