Editors at the Washington Examiner take aim at cities that ignore important laws.

If your next-door neighbor decided to start brewing beer in his garage, and the fermenting yeast made your house smell like rotten eggs, you could sue him for nuisance, enjoin him from making beer, and seek damages to repair the damage to your house.

That is a fair common law principle.

But what if the city you live in refuses to enforce anti-vagrancy laws, such as bans on camping, panhandling, or public urination? What if the resulting homelessness encampments increase crime in your neighborhood and result in your home smelling like urine? 

There is no cause of action in common law against a local government for not enforcing the law. If the mayor and district attorney decide not to enforce your city’s anti-vagrancy laws, and your home suffers as a result, your only recourse is the ballot box.

Some Arizonans want to change that.

The Arizona House passed a resolution this month that places an initiative on the November ballot that would enable real property owners to win tax refunds in state court if they could show a city’s decision not to enforce anti-vagrancy laws caused monetary damage to their property.

“What it really boils down to is, when we have citizens who break laws, the government has a lot of tools to go after citizens that don’t follow the law,” Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen said when debating the legislation. “But when our government doesn’t follow the law or enforce the law, our citizens are limited on what they can do.”

If the ballot measure passes this November, an aggrieved property owner would have to show in state court that a city, town, or county adopted “a policy, pattern or practice that declines to enforce existing laws, ordinances or other legislation prohibiting illegal camping, loitering, panhandling, public urination or defecation, public consumption of alcoholic beverages or possession or use of illegal substances.”