Republicans in the Iowa Senate propose new protections for property owners. The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled governments have the authority to seize private property for projects that would boost the local economy — projects completed by private developers. Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti, a Republican from Ankeny, says that’s wrong. “Private property ownership is a basic, fundamental right not just in Iowa but in this country,” Lamberti says. “We don’t believe that private economic development is a public use for which one person’s private property can be taken just because somebody wants to use property for a higher economic development purpose.”
Senator Bob Brunkhorst, a Republican from Waverly, says he’s heard from a lot of Iowans who are afraid their property will be condemned by their local government and bulldozed for an economic development project. “They want to make sure that when they have Christmas dinner, they’re going to have it in their house, they don’t want to be kicked out of their house.” Brunkhorst says. “Whether you’re on the south side of Des Moines or the south side of Waverly, homeowners want to be protected.”
The legislation Brunkhorst and other Republicans propose would tilt things in favor of property owners, forcing cities and counties to prove the property is unsafe or a slum. Today, the property owner has to prove his home or business meets local standards. The City of Des Moines tried to condemn Brad Hamilton’s buildings in the newly-developing “East Village” neighborhood near the statehouse and transfer it to other developers. Hamilton says in 2002, the City inspected his two buildings and gave them “fair” ratings. In 2004, a letter from the City of Des Moines informed Hamilton he hadn’t done enough to improve the property and if he didn’t do more, the city would seize the property and give it to another developer. Hamilton hired three contractors who finished the fronts of the buildings, but city officials proceeded with their plans to seize his buildings.
Hamilton credits the media for telling his story and saving his property. “The City has now backed off and I’ve complied with their demands,” Hamilton says. “I hope everybody can support this bill because it’s not the Iowa way and it’s not the American way. Property rights are fundamental for all of us.”