In Texas — as in most states — real estate is conveyed to its owner under the concept of “fee simple,” or absolute ownership of the land and whatever is on it, in it or under it. It’s like a bundle of sticks and you can do what you want with all of ’em. Sort of.

In practice —  there are restrictions on what you can do with some of your sticks:

  • If there’s water under your property, you can dig a well and go get it … unless at any point it rises to the surface. Then it belongs to everyone in Texas.
  • You can’t buy a single-family lot and put up a 12-story hotel.
  • Most gated communities won’t let you raze a three-bedroom home and replace it with a yurt.
  • Slash and burn agriculture is prohibited in most residential neighborhoods.
  • So – in most communities – is buying tigers and elephants and opening a circus.

So it’s not unusual to see limits on the freedoms enjoyed by landowners. More than 50 cities in Texas choose to mitigate damage with restrictions on what an owner can do to his piece of the urban forest.  The question is who’s better suited to decide those  — your friends and neighbors or the State. And who’s most likely to enforce them.