Housing Codes, Building Demolition, and Just Compensation: A Rationale for the Exercise of Public Powers Over Slum Housing

In programs of housing improvement and slum clearance, public agencies must often make difficult choices between the exercise of public powers of land acquisition, which require the payment of compensation, and public powers of noncompensatory regulation, which require no payment of compensation. This Article focuses on three of these programs-building demolition, urban renewal, and housing code enforcement. Public agencies may demolish slum dwellings, one at a time, without compensation. Title to the cleared site is not affected and remains in the owner after the building has been demolished. Under statutory powers of urban renewal, local public agencies may designate entire slum neighborhoods as urban renewal project areas. Within these project areas, slum dwellings and the land on which they stand may be acquired for clearance or rehabilitation, but compensation must be paid. Finally, local governments may enact housing codes which impose minimum standards for housing maintenance, space and occupancy, and health and sanitary facilities. Without payment of compensation, the housing code enforcement agency may issue compulsory orders of repair which require the slum owner to bring his dwelling into compliance with the housing code on pain of suffering criminal and perhaps civil penalties. The dwelling may also be closed to occupancy by public order until it has been brought into compliance with housing code standards.