Following Federal Lawsuit, Richland, Wa. Drops Unconstitutional Street-Fees Law

by | Jan 31, 2020

Following Federal Lawsuit, Richland, Wa. Drops Unconstitutional Street-Fees Law

by | Jan 31, 2020

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • Buffer

Following a federal lawsuit brought by the Institute for Justice, the City of Richland has ended its practice of unconstitutionally forcing homeowners to upgrade city streets as a condition of obtaining a building permit. As a result of that change, Linda Cameron is free to renovate her Richland home without first paying upwards of $60,000 to upgrade an adjacent city street.

“It is a shame that it took a federal lawsuit for the city to recognize that it was violating its citizen’s constitutional rights,” said IJ Senior Attorney Paul Avelar. “But with this change, Linda and other homeowners are free to renovate their property without having to pay a ransom to the city.”

Linda’s fight started in October 2018, when she decided it was time to renovate the modest one-bedroom, one-bathroom home she had lived in for more than 40 years. She hired a contractor, drew up plans for an additional bedroom and bathroom and submitted a permit application to the city. The city’s building inspector approved her permit as being structurally sound, but the Richland Public Works Department rejected it because it didn’t also include plans to renovate a public street that ran along the back of her property—a street that she didn’t even use to access her driveway. To get her home renovation permit, Richland’s municipal code said Linda also had to improve the city’s street. Linda would have to widen 400 feet of street; build curbs, gutters and streetlights; and add sidewalks that didn’t connect to any other sidewalks. An engineer estimated the changes Linda would have to make at $60,000.

Linda attempted to negotiate with the city, but that was a dead end. The city manager said the law said what it said, so Linda would just have do as she was told. Instead, Linda partnered with the Institute for Justice and filed a federal lawsuit challenging Richland’s imposition of so-called “impact fees” as a condition of getting a building permit. Municipalities may legally charge fees to recoup the impact development has on public infrastructure, but, typically, these fees are imposed on developers to cover the real impacts of new property development. For example, if a developer wants to build a 100-home subdivision, a city could charge an impact fee to recoup the cost of installing new sewer lines or installing traffic signals for increases in traffic.

But when there is no impact, there can be no impact fee. The Supreme Court has explained that impact fees charged without impacts are unconstitutional; indeed, they are little more than extortion. Linda’s case demonstrates why. Linda just wanted to add a second bedroom to her one-bedroom home, but Richland said that before she could, she would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars widening a city street behind her house. It’s obvious that Linda’s second bedroom would not have an impact on the street. The city just wanted Linda to pay for a new street, so it wouldn’t have to.

“If cities want new streets or sidewalks, they can pay for those through normal channels. What they can’t do is force homeowners like Linda to pay for them by imposing unconstitutional conditions on building permits,” said IJ Attorney Patrick Jaicomo. “Thankfully, Richland has agreed to stop that practice. Under its new ordinance, homeowners will be able to once again use and enjoy their property without paying the city for the privilege.”

After the lawsuit was filed, Richland agreed to change its law to impose an impact fee only where there was an impact. After Richland changed its law, Linda’s application was granted without any conditions.  Now, she can get to work on renovating her home and other homeowner in Richland are free from similar treatment in the future. 

Reprinted from the Institute for Justice.

About Matt Powers

Our Books

thisone

Related Articles

Related

The Synthetic Killers of Tomorrow’s Tyranny

The Synthetic Killers of Tomorrow’s Tyranny

When Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was deposed in 1989, it is claimed that he pleaded for Jack Ramsay, a character Tom Selleck played in the 1984 Michael Crichton film, Runaway. The dictator was a fan of the film and in his desperation during the show trial may...

read more
Rage Against the War Machine (Together!)

Rage Against the War Machine (Together!)

The war in Ukraine has trundled on for nearly a year now, and it is hard to see an end in sight—barring nuclear conflagration. Stunningly, an increasing number of political leaders seem to believe that the outcome of the conflict will be “worth it," to invoke the...

read more
Sales Tax Is Still Theft

Sales Tax Is Still Theft

A group of House Republicans is supporting legislation that would replace federal income, payroll, estate, and gift taxes with a 30 percent national sales tax. The bill also eliminates the Internal Revenue Service, giving states the responsibility to collect the sales...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This