Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Awful, Terrible, Really Bad Bright Green House

This was in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times:

Bright green house leaves the neighbors livid

"People in nearby earth-tone houses will ask the owner to think of them and mute her paint."

"Neighbors plan to draft a letter asking the homeowner to take their quality of life and property values into account."

The article is typical of its kind: The house is bright green, some neighbors (identified as "the" neighbors) don't like it, and want the law to come make her change it to a color they like. They don't say they have superior aesthetic judgement -- they talk about fitting in with "the character" of the neighborhood (though a neighborhood with all 'earth-tone houses' seems to me to be pretty much without any specific character), and about property values -- the ultimate sword of the neighborhood meddler: Someone's house for sale hasn't gotten any offers since that awful paint job!

It appears that each property owner in a free society is limited in the use of their own property by the potential sale price of neighboring houses. I mean, a free society is all well and good, but my property values....!

We had an optometrist who painted her office in the middle of our small town, Castro Valley, in northern California, a shocking shade of purple -- basically the same as this house, except purple with green trim. The neighbors jumped up and down and demanded a law - since we are in an unincorporated area, there were no laws. Uproar.

Then, oddly, a backlash -- other neighbors started insisting that THEY actually LIKED the colorful business building. Like another commenter here, they were tired of beige beige beige. They eventually drowned out the complainers.
Today, a few years later, nobody notices the purple building. It's still there. We've gotten used to it; now we like it.
Your instant reaction to art isn't and shouldn't be made into the law. Stop being so bossy; relax; take a chill pill. Wait a year and see if you still hate it. If you still do -- too doggone bad.
I understand that people might not like the color of a house, or not like it to be in their neighborhood. But the strength of their aesthetic opinion gives nobody property rights in another person's property. 
You don't like it -- this gives you no authority over them. You really REALLY don't like it -- this STILL gives you no authority over them. 
You can even say it makes it harder to sell your house, that it depresses property values in your neighborhood. The value of your property STILL gives you no property rights over her home!
You can not like it. You can ask her to change it. You can reason with her, try to persuade her. But in the end, it's her house. You have no property rights due to your eyeballs being offended.
If property rights mean anything, they mean the right to peaceful enjoyment of your own property regardless of the artistic opinions of your neighbors -- even if they are architects -- even if they are government officials -- even if they are sacred zoning commissioners -- even if you voted for them -- even if you are firmly convinced that YOUR value judgement here is far superior to hers -- even if you and ALL YOUR NEIGHBORS hate the color of the house!
If that's not true, then the expression, "It's a free country" is not true either. We don't live in a free country; we live in a country as free as our neighbors care to let us be. Instead of the old slogan, "My freedom to swing my fist stops at your nose," the saying should now be, "My freedom to do anything stops at your opinion of what I'm doing."
In other words, finally, I am free to do anything that you don't care about. As long as it doesn't bother you, as long as you aren't offended by it, as long as you don't disapprove, I can do anything I want. But woe betide me if you don't like it -- then I have no freedoms at all. The Neighbors get to rule -- supported by local government.
This kind of thing is catnip to politicians. And that's why the Constitution attempts (too often in vain) to limit their power to help your neighbors oppress you.

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