It’s well established by the American Experience (some 230+ years of it) that rights to private property undergird all other rights. Granted, the British did come up with the idea of a man’s home being “his castle,” so thanks for the Magna Carta, folks.
Unfortunately, the whole world doesn’t see things that way, and even among free and mostly-free nations, there is a lot of meddling in the housing market, from regulating sales and rentals, to determining the extent of ownership. We present for your edification and amusement these seven strange laws about rentals, homes, property management, and more.
1. DO-IT-YOURSELFERS, BEWARE
WHERE: New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Hawaii
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Some people give up, letting homes deteriorate
Think you can do whatever you want with your property? Think again!
Some cities and towns have a real problem with the DIY demographic, and are particularly miffed that people would tend to their homes on a Sunday. This may be a holdover from the days when teetotalers and moralizers pushed through legislation to make people act like proper Christians, even if they’re Zoroastrians.
Never, never on a Sunday, fellas!
In Passaic, New Jersey, the ban is on Sunday house painting. In Schenectady, New York, you can’t fill nail holes with putty, while in Santa Fe, New Mexico, mowing the lawn – a traditional weekend chore – is against the law. And in the paradise of Hawaii, don’t disturb Mother Nature (or anyone else) with a leaf blower when you should be in church!
2. FOREIGN BUYERS COULD BE SPIES OR WORSE!
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: The Turks are chasing away a lot of foreign investors
The Turks don’t want you near their military bases.
Turkish law is very restrictive about foreign nationals buying real estate, and part of the drawn-out process stems from national security worries. The country’s Act 2565 requires foreign buyers to apply to the Turkish General Staff, or a department appointed by them, to ensure the property that foreigners are interested in is not located in a military zone, nor too close to a sensitive target.
Yours is in there somewhere – in Turkish.
Foreign buyers are trying to get around the requirement, and the six-month wait, through notarized agreements with third parties who take ownership while the buyer awaits the military’s permission. The problem is that, since they are not official deeds, these notary agreements do not guarantee ownership to the buyer and occupy a legal gray area that can encourage scammers.
3. LEGAL SEPARATION OF BUILDINGS FROM ROADS AND PROPERTY
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Accelerating down the road to serfdom
Who really owns the property?
Poland gained a great deal of freedom when Lech Walesa and his Solidarity union motivated the populace to throw off the Communist Party in the 1980s. Unfortunately, some of the nation’s laws, as well as a wide range of local and regional regulations, date from the era of state ownership (of everything), making it hard for Poles, not to mention foreign buyers, to figure out who owns what and what.
Dropping a few of these on the ground might help.
In Warsaw, you can own a property, but it doesn’t include the ground. That belongs to the city governing council, which can force you to move or even demolish your house. In the Polish countryside, farm owners sharing a common access road all have to agree on upgrades or repairs to any part of it, but they can change their minds at any time, essentially stalling progress in its tracks.
4. SOMETHING BOTHERS EVERYBODY, SO NOTHING SHOULD BOTHER ANYONE
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: People use regulations to bug their neighbors
Kathleen Edward’s neighbor sent death threats and parked a hearse in her front yard.
The English, historically, have been far less enamored (and supportive) of individual liberties than we Colonials. In recent years the Queen’s subjects have learned how to game the Anti-Social Behavior Order (ASBO) process to get bothersome neighbors back for incidents or slights, major and minor. In the case of terminally ill American Kathleen Edwards, the law was on the side of her bipolar neighbor who sent Kathy death threats and harassed her daily.
When the Mods and Rockers clashed in the 1960s, they dressed up first. Stylish!
The Town Police Clauses Act of 1847, still in force though mostly ignored, gives police wide latitude in controlling people’s actions, whether on private or public property. In addition to banning profane singing, the Act prohibits shaking or beating rugs, cleaning doormats at certain times of the day, and having a bonfire on your lawn.
5. TAKING ALL THE RISK OUT OF RENTING
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Hard for Japanese, nearly impossible for foreigners
New places in Japan break traditions of dark, dreary, apartments.
Following World War II, the new Japanese government intervened (forcefully) in the housing market to help struggling workers establish stable residences. The government requires landlords to get its permission to issue a series of warnings to non-paying tenants, leading to eviction – after about six months. Property owners have to choose renters carefully.
Late on your rent? Meet the collection agents.
Since tenants have the weight of the government on their side, landlords do the only thing they can do to protect their interests, namely, reduce the risk as much as possible. Renters in Japan go through a more intrusive and detailed credit and background check than buyers do in the U.S., and foreigners will need help from a well-connected Japanese friend with good English skills.
6. SILLY MEDDLING IN THE “SHOW ME” STATE
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Dumb laws make people lose respect for all laws
We’ll be mailing your summons.
Missouri, like every other state, has weird and antiquated laws still on the books. Many concerned with what you can and cannot do in your own home, whether you own or rent. For example, if you are under 21 and take out the garbage with even a single beer can or booze bottle in it, you are guilty of illegal possession of alcohol; even if your dad yelled to take it out.
Hey, you can’t do that, live in the same apartment, that is.
It’s not much better at the local level. In a number of Missouri towns, it is illegal for four women to rent an apartment together, and some cities still use the state’s Brothel Law to prohibit four or more unrelated people from living in the same place, too. If you’re fed up in Ballwin, Missouri, go home before you cuss – it’s the only spot where you’re allowed to do that. Good to know.
7. IT’S HARD TO BREAK OLD POPULIST HABITS
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Pandering to progressives stalls economic recovery
Portugal is beautiful, but stuck in a time warp.
Property rentals in Portugal have been regulated for several hundred years. Many laws and regulations were born of the dramatic political changes the nation experienced in the last 150 years. In 1966, the Portuguese Codigo Civil (Civil Code) brought all rental laws together in a comprehensive manner, including the 1948 law prohibiting rent increases in Lisbon and Oporto, the country’s major cities.
Portugal is worse than Japan – evictions take a year!
The socialist revolution of 1974, and political agitation of the 1980s, resulted in a strongly pro-tenant regime, with drastic restrictions on evictions and rent increases. To return competition to the rental market, and simplify recovery of owner property, the New Urban Lease Act took effect in June 2006. Results are hard to gauge, as various factions continue to fight over the Act in courts, parliament, the media, and even the streets.
Strange rental and ownership laws have created conflicts around the world. From separated couples in New York City taping off apartments and cohabiting, to the one-year eviction process of Portugal’s rental properties, there are a lot of ways for owners and renters to get burned. These are just a few of the strangest laws around, but before you buy or rent, make sure you investigate for yourself!