Monday, June 19, 2006

Clean Your Room

It’s against the law to do drugs, because drugs are bad for you. And the law’s making it harder and harder to smoke, because smoking is bad for you. Driving without a seatbelt? Bad for you and therefore illegal. Government’s even talking about regulating things like junk food or trans fats, because those might spoil your dinner. . . I mean, they're bad. Apparently the Constitution has an in loco parentis amendment nobody told me about.

And now this: keep your room nice and neat or else you’ll be out on the street.

Sam Shipkovitz came home late one evening to the swank Waterford House high-rise condominium building on Crystal Drive, where he'd lived for eight years, to find the door to his unit bolted shut. A bright yellow fire marshal's condemnation placard was fastened over the peephole: "Unfit for Human Habitation."
That was in October. He hasn't lived there since.

Granted, since he shared a building with many other condo owners there might be justification for some regulation of his household habits:

The kitchen was unusable: The floor and counters were covered with legal documents from one of his cases. "If one were to actually use the stove or oven," the county wrote, "it would certainly [engulf] the unit in flames.". . . "We take a more aggressive approach in multi-family settings," said Rob Dejter, a Montgomery County code enforcement official and part of the county's Working Group on Hoarding. "Someone out on a two-acre parcel is very different from someone in a condominium, rental apartment or townhouse who has rotting meat, roaches, organic waste, mice, rats and bacteria that can become airborne."

Removing a fire hazard or a rat warren from a crowded apartment building. . . maybe even a libertarian can agree with such a thing in principle. But how far do you take it?

"What constitutes unlawful messiness as opposed to acceptable messiness is very much in the eye of the beholder," said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law scholar at George Washington University. "If you end up with a Felix Unger inspector, most every college student would be declared a hoarder."

Henry St. John Fitzgerald, former assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia and a friend of Shipkovitz's, is rallying advocates of private property rights to his cause. "Sam Shipkovitz is a hoarder. . . . But that's not the county's business," he said. "Locking him out -- that's government interference."

Fairfax County Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) has pushed the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to devise a regional hoarding plan. She concedes that lockouts and forced cleanups are intrusive. "This is still evolving," she said. "And it's a whole lot better than leaving it alone like it used to be, where people would die in their hoarding houses because nobody knew."

Yes, now they can die homeless because somebody found out. I wonder whatever happened to this lady from the story:

Alexandria sheriff's deputies wheeled a wailing 83-year-old hoarder out of her apartment in an office chair in 1997 and dumped her and 40 years' worth of newspapers on the side of the street.

Better off homeless than in her own apartment, no?


Anonymous JD said...

The country seems to be in the grip of a Puritan madness. Now it's turned its attention to the terminally messy, I guess. I understand the fire department and paramedics angle, but we've had fire departments and messy people for hundreds of years, and now they're deciding this is a problem? And I notice that we see exactly the same kind of demonization/blurring of the lines we see in the drug war: I can't buy pot because dealers are killing each other for crack-dealing territory; Shipkovitz has to be kicked out of his apartment because "Someone out on a two-acre parcel is very different from someone in a condominium, rental apartment or townhouse who has rotting meat, roaches, organic waste, mice, rats and bacteria that can become airborne", none of which Shipkovitz had.

10:48 AM  

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