Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sell Me Your House, or Else

The city of Houston has sued a home owner under the city's fair housing ordinance. The misdemeanor charge carries a potential fine of $500, and stems from the refusal of Matthew Prucka to sell his $8.2 million home to a neighbor. Randy Zamora, chief prosecutor for the city, told the Chronicle:

After looking at statements he [Prucka] made in a deposition, it seems pretty clear he just didn’t like the idea of ramps and widening halls and did not want his house to be used by his neighbor’s disabled daughter.

The neighbor--Anthony Petrello--has literally made this a federal case, filing a federal lawsuit against Prucka. Both lawsuits (Petrello's and the city's) allege that Prucka is guilty of discrimination against the neighbor's disabled daughter--the house was to be used to house medical personnel who care for the daughter.

This entire issue boils down to a situation with a willing buyer and an unwilling seller. For whatever reason, Prucka did not want to sell his home to Petrello. His reason may be perfectly rational and valid, or it may be completely irrational. In either case, it doesn't matter. It is his choice.

That the city is involved in this illustrates how meddling the local government is becoming. The government's proper function is the protection of individual rights. It should not be in the business of forcing individuals to sell their property against their own judgment.

In this particular case, Petrello desired to purchase a property, but Prucka did not desire to sell it to him. Prucka's property rights allow him to choose the conditions under which he will sell his property, and those conditions may be appropriate and valid, or they may be silly and bizarre. That is Prucka's right and his prerogative. If Petrello does not like the conditions, he can simply refuse to close the deal.

Petrello refuses to recognize Prucka's rights. Petrello seeks to force Prucka to sell his home, contrary to his own judgment and against his own desires. And by siding with Petrello, the city is demonstrating that it has no regard for individual rights.

Anti-discrimination laws are inherently irrational and a violation of individual rights. Such laws prohibit individuals from acting according to their own judgment. Such laws force individuals to act according to values that they may not embrace. Such laws should be abolished, and the city should drop its lawsuit.

If the city is truly interested in "fair" housing it should quit regulating land-use and repeal all building codes. Indeed, if the city wants "fairness" in any realm, it should be protecting individual rights. There can be no "fairness" without individual rights. Without individual rights, society becomes a battle over the use of government power for the purpose of dispensing favors and punishing the recalcitrant.


Anonymous said...

The following comment was posted by "An advocate for clean government". It is apparent from the content of the post that he has an intimate knowledge of this case. He included addresses for the plaintiff, which I was not comfortable including. I have replaced the addresses with XXX. Brian Phillips

As is often the case with government meddling, this Petrello/Prucka dispute has very strong signs of influence peddling at city hall (and has been enabled by much of the established media decision to turn a blind eye towards the matter).

As the Chronicle correctly noted, the City Attorney brought the case based solely on Prucka’s deposition (“After looking at statements he made in a deposition, it seems pretty clear he just didn’t like the idea of ramps and widening halls and did not want his house to be used by his neighbor’s disabled daughter,” Zamora said.)

The facts that have come out publicly suggest that Petrello’s claim of discrimination is at best extremely dubious. As documented on and confirmed on Google Earth, Petrello already has a huge (almost 1.5 acres) lot at XXX (from which he recently demolished another historic home) connected to his XXX estate (of almost 4 acres and over 15,000 square feet of living area) which would obviously be more than adequate to accommodate any needs for a facility to support multiple handicapped children.

Zamora filed the criminal charges without even bothering to try to learn both sides of the story, and his entire case is predicated on evidence that he knows or at least should know that he can never use. No remotely competent city attorney would bring such a case except under extreme duress or as a huge favor. Any competent attorney practicing in criminal complaints knows that Prucka’s deposition would not be admissible in the city’s case and that no defendant with remotely competent council would testify against himself in those circumstances. (Bill White was a very knowledgeable attorney himself with extensive legal experience and almost certainly knows these basic rules of evidence.)

Petrello and Berg are exceptionally tight with the senior city officials (and are rather notorious for using their muscle behind the scenes). Petrello has even hosted a fund raiser for Bill White at his Shadyside estate at the center of the controversy. A list can be compiled of city officials to whom Petrello and affiliates have made political contributions relatively easily that will make for very interesting reading. Berg’s own website ( provides some very telling snippets of Berg’s admitted tight connections to Houston city hall.

It is hard not be curious about the connections among these facts, but most interestingly, the Chronicle almost certainly knew these facts before filing its story but chose to omit them and has not yet found the time to follow up on its original story. Readers might find it productive to speculate as to why as they evaluate their options for obtaining news.

It will be telling to review all the evidence around this matter once it becomes part of the public record including Prucka’s deposition. Assuming that the matter truly is merely one disgruntled rich guy throwing a fit and manipulating our public officials because he did not get to purchase a property as he wanted, our public officials should be brought to task.

Anonymous said...

This is an intriguing story, and the public needs to be aware of it. mr petrello is a powerful man in Houston, and his and his lawyer's ability to get the City to raise a criminal claim against the seller of the home ostensibly in order to apply pressure on the seller is impressive. It certainly looks to be an example of abuse of power on the part of the government official. On what legitimate basis has a claim been made against the seller? This is about SUPERRICH people fighting over land, and abusing out taxpayer funded City and legal system to do it. Where is the investigative journalism needed to throw the bums out who are abusing the powers and discretion given to government officials by bringing criminal claims, no matter how small or inconsequential, against persons who have a position contrary to the interests of their benefactors? The city should be ashamed and this needs better publicity. Does anyone know what eventually happened?

Brian Phillips said...

I've not heard any more about this case, but it could be worthy of some digging and another post.

Anonymous said...

Not the first time that Petrello has been aggressive with his neighbors...