Adventures in the surreal estate trade

In the wake of the controversial Kelo Supreme Court decision, which enabled communities to use Eminent Domain to confiscate private land for whatever purpose the community likes, there has been a lot of public hue and cry. So while the land-grabbers might have the law on their side, they still have a sense of public relations, and are looking for less confrontational ways to do as they wish.

On Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, they might have stumbled on a rather unique solution: announce that the town took the land 60 years ago, but didn’t bother to tell anyone.

It seems that when the town took a bunch of land for an airport, they didn’t bother to publicly spell out just what land they were taking. Over the following 66 years, they quietly sat back and let various properties be bought and sold, continued to collect taxes, until they decided they really wanted it. So now they’re telling the family that currently occupies the spot that they’re free to keep living in their house, but it’s gotta be moved off the airport’s property.

The airport’s director comes across as a rather arrogant sort.

Vaughan, the airport commissioner, said the town kept the best records it could. “Could they have done a better job? Maybe,” he said. “But that’s why you have title insurance, to compensate you in case a mistake is made.”

Mr. Vaughan seems not to notice — or care — that his side of the dispute made the mistake, and hasn’t bothered to fix it in over six decades. I’d argue that by tolerating the continued occupancy and sales of the land over that time, the town forfeited its claim to the land. His idea that the title insurance company should eat the losses for the screwup — when there was literally not a damned thing anyone outside of the town government could have done to discover, let alone fix the problem — is patently absurd.

But this is Massachusetts we’re talking about here. The town will get the land, the family will get a token payment (most likely not even what they’ve paid in property taxes on the town’s land), and the title insurance company will take it in the shorts.

Because when the government makes a mistake, it’s never their fault.

We few, we happy few
Those arrogant Brits