The economic cost of zoning and land-use regulations across the country are is substantial. These costs come both in the direct effects of higher rents, making cities unaffordable for many tenants, and in the opportunity costs of people either not moving to cities or not making investments in human capital because too much of their income would be or already is sucked up by rent.
While the most onerous regulations, like minimum lot sizes or single-family zoning, impose these massive costs to our economy at large, other zoning codes (particularly in small towns) may not impose major economic costs on the rest of us, but can jam up nonconformists with non-conforming housing.
Reason’s Eric Boehem writes about one Florida couple who recently avoided major fines from their town of Mount Dora.
The mayor of Mount Dora, Florida, will have to publicly apologize Wednesday afternoon for his city’s overzealous code enforcement that targeted a home painted in the likeness of Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece, “Starry Night.”
More importantly, the city will remove a lien against the property and drop more than $10,000 in fines it had issued to the husband and wife who own the home, according to a settlement approved unanimously by the city council Tuesday night. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the settlement also includes the payment of $15,000 to homeowners Lubomir Jastrzebski and his wife, Nancy Nemhauser.
The painting started out as a mural on a wall outside their house, so Lubomir Jastrzebski and Nancy Nemhauser’s 25-year old autistic son would be able to easily identify the house if he ever became lost. When the city said the wall and the rest of the house had to match, the couple decided to paint the rest of the house.
Thanks to litigation brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation, not only will the couple be compensated for their ordeal, but Mount Dora will rewrite its code enforcement rules.
Will the settlement be a bellwether for zoning and land-use reform? Probably not. But this case is a reminder that in addition to regulations that restrict substantial development, zoning codes also include less– significant rules that can nonetheless be used to impose substantial direct costs on individual homeowners.