What is an Ombudsman?
The term “ombudsman” typically refers to someone appointed by the government to investigate or resolve disputes between citizens and their government. Utah’s Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman helps individuals and government agencies understand and comply with constitutional rights when actions taken, or authorized, by state and local government affect property rights. The Office is staffed by three Utah attorneys and one administrative secretary. Attorneys in the Ombudsman’s Office are experienced in takings, eminent domain, and land use law.
What does the Property Rights Ombudsman do?
The Property Rights Ombudsman accomplishes its objective through two primary services:
1. Free mediation services. When private property is taken for a public use through the government’s power of eminent domain, the constitution provides for the right to just compensation. Property owners may request assistance from the Ombudsman’s office to help resolve disputes involving property takings by acting as a neutral third party mediator.
2. Written Advisory Opinions. When use or development of property is regulated through land use ordinances, the constitution provides the right to due process whenever a land use applicant asks for a decision from a local government applying those regulations to requests for land use permits or other permissions. If a dispute arises as to whether a land use decision is compliant with applicable land use regulations, the Ombudsman’s Office can issue a written advisory opinion to determine compliance with certain provisions of state law. In authoring an advisory opinion, the Ombudsman seeks a response from all parties, investigates the issue, and provides factual and legal conclusions intended to help the parties resolve the issue without the need for litigating the same question, where appropriate.
The Property Rights Ombudsman serves a number of other functions on the topics of takings, eminent domain, and land use law–including answering questions of property owners and local governments, assisting local governments to develop guidelines for takings issues, providing information to the public, and providing education and training for local governments on land use issues.
What can’t the Property Rights Ombudsman help with?
The Ombudsman’s Office is funded by the state to assist in issues regarding constitutional property rights when there has been some interaction with the government or those acting under its authorization affecting those rights. Outside of this context, there are many other legal rights inherent with ownership of property, and many types of legal disputes that may arise regarding those rights, which are outside of the scope of the Ombudsman’s duties and services. Examples include disputes with neighbors over trespass, boundary issues, nuisance or damage claims, as well as disputes involving private agreements affecting property rights, such as easement agreements, real estate conveyances, or landlord/tenant leases. Those with legal disputes with other private parties should consult with an attorney about their rights.
How do I contact the Property Rights Ombudsman or find out more?
The Property Rights Ombudsman maintains a website with summaries of legal topics regarding property rights, as well as information on state and federal constitutions, state statutes, and court cases addressing property rights issues. Copies of the Office’s issued Advisory Opinions are also available, as well as forms to request mediation services or a written Advisory Opinion. You can find out more at propertyrights.utah.gov, or by calling 801-530-6391, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is an Ombudsman?