Life’s a Beach for Florida Property Owners

Florida property rights advocates have had their day in court, but it is unclear whether they will get the result they deserve.  Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Dep’t of Environmental Protection.  The suit pits six beach front property owners against the state of Florida, and has potentially broad-sweeping consequences for coastal communities nationwide.

Historically, ocean front properties in Florida extend to the water line at high tide.  Ostensibly to combat erosion through “beach-widening,” the state Department of Environmental Protection has dumped truckloads of sand across a seven-mile stretch of beach.  Instead of extending the property of the owner, however, the State has declared itself proprietor of the new strip of sand. 

Not only does this action amount to state taking of private property, but it also cuts property owners off from the ocean, slashing their assets’ value.  As the home owners’ representative described at arguments, the State of Florida literally transformed their properties from "oceanfront property into oceanview property."  Homeowners who once enjoyed a private beach now abut public land—subject to outdoor vendors and spring break partiers.

The Florida State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State’s actions, and against property rights.  Similar to this month’s case in New York, this continues a recent trend of state high courts siding with anti-property owner decisions like Kelo v. New London.  This case represents an opportunity to stem the tide of government takings rising since 2005.  The U. S. Supreme Court appears to be split on the issue currently at hand. 

Both the State courts of Florida and New York left the decision to amend eminent domain law to the state legislatures.  According to the Institute for Justice, both states suffer from a disproportionately high number of state takings from private property owners.  Neither state house has managed to pass any bill aimed at reducing infringements upon the property rights of their citizens.  While the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concerns itself with preventing erosion of beach fronts, it is now all the more important that homeowners fight the erosion of their property rights.