Here is a sort of transcript of the case Joannou v. City of Rancho Palos Verdes: https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1644364.html. In short, there was a piece of land that had been gradually migrating due to Earth movements over a few decades. It ended up in a section claimed by the city. Joannou had bought the land after it had migrated into City territory, and the City claimed Joannou could not own the land. Joannou and other homeowners sued on the basis of the Cullen Earthquake Act, which said that in the event of a disaster moving the land, the boundaries would be withdrawn. The Court ruled that the Cullen's Act did not apply, and part of their reasoning was that the appellants could have done things to make the houses immovable, like anchoring them to the bedrock. They had other reasoning like citing the dictionary definition of disaster was that is was sudden, not gradual, and that there had been an earlier case similar to this.

But let's say that one of the appellants could not afford to take those measures like anchoring. I have two questions:

  1. There was one appellant, and this appellant could not afford to take those measures. Would the court have ruled in the appellants favor, assuming the other reasoning held true?

  2. If the answer to (1) is Yes, then what if there were multiple appellants, and one of those appellants could not afford. Would an exception be made for that appellant?

  • I do not think anyone here in the landslide can afford to fix a huge area that is over a mile deep. The better angle is the city and county negligence and inequality and safety. The residents have lost property ownership rights. A basic right has been removed, the boundaries and tracts have never been adjusted. Yes the city of RPV did adjust tracts for other slow moving landslide impacted property around our community in 1978. The result of not moving the tract maps is we have a whole community living on homes that are not on the AIN Lat / Long. How 1) These lots sell and get insured? How now Sep 28, 2023 at 20:54

1 Answer 1


Failure to engage in preventative measures, be it by negligence, ignorance, or financial inability, is not a defense. If they couldn't afford it, then they couldn't afford that property's risks, and they can either choose to suffer those risks or do something like sell it off to someone else (who might have been able to do something) or not buy it at all and consider some other property (housing markets providing you few to no options is also not a defense). Your hypothetical is similar to saying "I didn't have (enough) accident insurance, and was ordered to pay $1m in damages for an accident I caused. I couldn't afford the (additional) insurance, though, but if I could have I would have gotten it and I wouldn't have to pay these damages personally. Therefore I shouldn't have to pay these damages." Which is clearly nonsense. Granted, in most US jurisdictions you are required to have some minimum amount of accident insurance to drive legally, but probably there are no laws regarding your home being anchored to bedrock. The key here is that those minimums can be quite low, and paying extra can get you substantially more coverage (both in breadth and value). But nobody gets a pass for not being able to afford the more extensive coverage they may have otherwise desired. Similarly, a home being anchored to bedrock may go above and beyond the minimum necessary, but is required to fully protect yourself against certain things. If you don't do it, you aren't protected, regardless of your reasons and circumstances.

The only circumstance I could image being an exception, unless explicitly encoded by the local law, is government malfeasance or gross negligence: e.g. you took all of the steps to get the proper permits and anchoring done, but the government intentionally (or through gross negligence) failed to grant them until such time as the property drift converted your property into government property. Possibly then a court would rule against the government, but off hand I'm not aware of any such cases (and the ruling may just be to pay the homeowner a fair price, rather than to redraw property lines). And in any case, proving the intentionality or gross negligence may be difficult, depending on how much deference the court gives the government and their likely claims of everything having been within normal and acceptable bureaucratic timeframes and delays.

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