1. Archive

Expectations or rights?

Published Oct. 6, 2005

(ran HC edition)

As part of its urban renewal program, by eminent domain condemnation the city removed 1,400 residences housing 17,000 people from the neighborhood adjoining a medical building and supermarket owned by Charles. The loss of nearby residences caused a 75 percent drop in business at the medical center and grocery.

Charles sued the city, alleging the urban renewal program was a taking of his private property by inverse condemnation without any payment to him. He alleged the city's action was a de facto taking of his property's market value and he should be compensated for the decline.

But the city argued there was no direct government action against the property belonging to Charles and he is free to use the property as before. Since Charles has not been deprived of the use of his property, the city felt it had no obligation to pay Charles for clearing the adjoining neighborhood of residences.

If you were the judge, would you rule the city urban renewal program which removed nearby residents requires compensation to Charles for the diminished market value of his medical and supermarket property? The judge said no.

Both the federal and state constitutions specify private property may not be taken for public use without just compensation, the

judge began. Although the city did not condemn the adjoining commercial buildings belonging to Charles, the business volume dropped by about 75 percent when the 17,000 neighborhood residents moved out, he noted.

But the city did not take from Charles his right to possess and use his buildings, the judge emphasized. "What had once been prime locations for a medical center and a grocery store suddenly became unsuitable for those endeavors," the judge explained.

"However, expectations are not rights," the judge clarified, and Charles had no right to require that the adjoining property remain unchanged.

Since the city took no deliberate action directed toward Charles or his property, the city has no obligation to pay him for the diminished value of his buildings, the judge ruled.

Based on the Michigan Court of Appeals decision in Murphy vs. City of Detroit, 506 N.W.2d 5.

Tenant slips and falls, sues landlord

Art fell on ice outside the building where he rented an apartment. The ice was hidden beneath a puddle of water on the sidewalk. Art sued his landlord for his injury damages.

The landlord replied that under the common law a building owner has no liability to a tenant injured on the premises unless the landlord was negligent. But Art replied that state law requires a landlord to keep all common areas of the building and grounds in a clean, safe and sanitary condition.

In the absence of negligence, the landlord argued, there is no liability for personal injury.

Art should have been more careful, the landlord added.

If you were the judge would you rule the landlord is liable for Art's slip and fall injury damages?

The judge said no.

It is significant, the judge began, that state law requires landlords to keep their buildings and grounds in a clean, safe and sanitary condition but it does not explicitly provide for damages.

That means the statute does not alter the common law which allows recovery of damages only if the landlord is found to be negligent, the judge explained.

Since Art did not present any evidence of the landlord's negligence, and the state statute does not provide for recovery of damages without proof of negligence, the landlord is not liable to Art for his injuries, the judge ruled.

Based on the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Kirchner vs. Chattanooga Choo Choo, 10 Fed3d 737.

Robert J. Bruss is a nationally syndicated columnist on real estate. Write to him in care of the Tribune Media Syndicate, c/o the Times, 64 E Concord St., Orlando, FL 32801. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column. Because of the volume of mail, personal answers to questions are impossible.