Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

Property Law for the Ages

Lior Strahilevitz
Michael C. Pollack


Within the next forty years, the number of Americans over age sixty-five is projected to nearly double. This seismic demographic shift will necessitate a reckoning in several areas of law and policy, but property law is especially unprepared. Built primarily for young and middle-aged white men, the common law of property has been critiqued for decades for the ways in which it oppresses or simply leaves behind people based on their race, sex, Native heritage, and more. This Article contributes a new focus on property law’s treatment of people based on their advanced age. Burdened by higher relocation costs, more inelastic incomes, and shorter time horizons than those faced by younger people, elderly people encounter a doctrine that often fails to protect their interests. This Article explores five areas of property law and evaluates how each fits—or, more frequently, fails to fit—the characteristics of many older subjects. From the law of takings to the law of waste, and from tenant protections to homeowners’ associations, not only is the law a poor fit, but the consequences for the health, safety, finances, and well-being of elderly people are often dramatic. At the same time, one of the rare significant efforts made thus far to protect older people from some of these consequences—the Fair Housing Act’s protection for age-restricted communities—has generated new inequities of its own that raise important questions about competing civil rights priorities. Accordingly, mindful of the dangers of overcorrection, this Article offers institutional reforms aimed to better protect the interests of older people in each area without unduly infringing upon those of others.