Property Rights

by 13 Aug 2012

Owning real estate and home ownership is the dream of many and a nightmare for others.

(TheNicheReport) -- While most of us go through our daily lives working our business, raising our families and finding some time to enjoy our life and community, we neglect to watch what is going on when it comes to our property rights. 

As I sit here and write this piece, there are changes going on with our “Unified Land Development Code,” which is slowly impacting our property rights, not just in my community, but in communities all over our nation – and we never even think about how it will affect us, until it impacts us or someone we know.  I am presenting three examples of what can happen or has happened when we don’t pay attention, even though many of us work in the real estate industry.

  • A 90-year-old gentleman has operated a boarding kennel for over thirty years and wants to sell his property and business so he can maintain a comfortable standard of living for his final years.  Along comes a buyer who is interested in buying the property and business and is willing to lease the house back to the seller and allow the seller to maintain the boarding operation.  It appears that this is a dream come true for the buyer and the seller.  The seller doesn’t have to move, gets to live in the house he has lived in for years, doesn’t have to pay for the upkeep of the property, and it also allows him to operate a business that he loves. 

As the senior gentleman is attending to business, a Codes Enforcement Officer knocks on his door and advises him that he is in violation of the current code, since the property had changed ownership, and because the classification of the area had changed years before and this property had been “Grandfathered” in per the ULDC (Unified Land Development Code).  The owners would now have to petition the zoning board for a special exemption to allow the boarding kennel to remain.  The senior fellow was also cited for having too many animals on the property and the operation of a kennel on a property which is not allowed under the current ULDC. This all came about because a neighbor complained of barking after they had recently purchased their property near the kennel. Keeping this in mind, the only thing that changed was the ownership, and now, the local government is requiring the owner to request permission for allowing a special exemption to operate as a kennel which it had been operating for over thirty years.

  • A farmer has a fifty-acre parcel that he wants to divide into five ten-acre parcels, and sell to people who want a place where they can have a few horses or operate a small farm.  The owner hires a surveyor to split the properties and contacts a real estate agent to sell the properties. 

This is where the problem begins. The agent finds a couple of interested buyers and during the title search, it’s found that the parcels had not been recorded properly and needed to have individual tax parcel numbers assigned.  With that being done, the sale went through and the buyers were excited about saving enough money so they could start building their dream home.  The new owners fenced their property and maintained the properties for a few years, and when they had saved enough money to pay for house plans to be drawn and hired a contractor to build their dream home, they found out they had to apply for a variance because the zoning was for agriculture only. 

Upon further investigation, the local comprehensive plan designated for their property was one house for twenty acres.  The owners had to create a plan to present to the planning commission and convince the board on why the board should accept their application, which, in the board’s opinion, equated to sprawl. 

  • A couple bought a five-acre parcel to place their mobile home in a rural part of the county.  After closing on the property, they applied and paid for all the permits required for the placement of their mobile home, i.e., setting the mobile home, well drilling, placement of a septic system and electrical panel and getting final inspections.  Once those were approved and they acquired the final certificate of occupancy, they were able to move into their new home.  Upon moving in, they started working on the landscaping, cutting trees, installing a fence for their horses and building a small paddock for the horse to keep it out of the weather. 

And then, a Codes Enforcement Officer came knocking on their door.  Upon sale of the property, the new owners were suppose to comply with the county EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), who had deemed the property an environmentally sensitive area, stating it had to remain in a natural state and the only area that could be landscaped was the plat designated around the placement of their home.  The area could not be fenced and the paddock had to be removed.  And because trees had been removed, they had to be replaced with trees large enough to have canopy coverage equivalent within twenty years to what they had removed, as per EPA aerial photograph of what the property was before they cleared the property.   

The title search had not revealed the EPA recommendation and was not part of their deed, yet Codes Enforcement was going to levy a fine on the property owners until they met the standards set by the EPA. The couple allowed the property to be foreclosed upon and left it as it was.

These are three examples of what can happen when we’re not paying attention.  Elected officials are guided by government employees who are being trained by government employees to slowly remove our property rights or allow government sanctions to be applied that limit our enjoyment of our property. 

We need laws to protect our environment and people’s safety – but where do we draw the line?  Get involved with the discussions in your community and determine if your ULDC makes sense, and if it doesn’t, see what you can do to change it.  It’s your community; what are you doing to keep your property rights? What are you doing to limit your government’s ability to remove your property rights?  Get involved, stay involved, and stay informed; what do you have to lose, other than your personal property rights?


Terry Martin-Back is a Broker Associate and Co-owner with his wife Debra of Exit Realty Producers of Gainesville Florida, Certified General Contractor, 20-year military veteran and combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm.  He was appointed to the Alachua County Codes Enforcement Board and the Alachua County Veterans Advisory Board by the Alachua County Commission.  Terry was a Congressional Candidate for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District during the 2010 election.


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