Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Cities Can't Cancel Contracts

Deed restrictions are very common in this country. I had one on my first house. It specified, among other things, that we could not construct any outbuildings, like gardening sheds. Later the homeowner's association removed that restriction. Such deed restrictions are intended 'to preserve the character of the neighborhood' and 'maintain property values'. I hate 'em, because I don't want another set of silly rules. But there is something I hate worse. The city of Shawnee passed an ordinance intending to force homeowner's associations to allow composition roofs, reasoning that they are less prone to burn. But US District Judge Carlos Murguia, thank God, struck down the law as unconstitutional. His rational was that it violated the association's right to make contracts.

I don't have much understanding of contract law, but the Judge applied the first paragraph of Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution. It reads:
No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.
I am so glad that Judge Murguia is protecting our right to make and enforce contracts. If the city of Shawnee so desires, they can outlaw wood roofs or require that wood roofs be treated with fire-retardent chemicals for their citizen's safety, but they can neither break nor force contracts between their citizens.

Here's the whole decision. It's pretty short.