The Shifting Sovereignty of Property: From Lords of the Land to Landlords (and back again?) in Three Short Steps


Nathanael Lauster, University of British Columbia

I draw from Vancouver history and the legal perspective of property as sovereignty to document shifts in the sovereignty afforded by urban property. Initially through colonial history the landed lords of Vancouver could improve, construct upon, regulate, subdivide, lease, and dispose of their properties with few constraints. Provincial law and municipal incorporation into the City of Vancouver bound lords to one another and a set of ever-growing regulations, stripping away key aspects of sovereignty. I work through three moments in this transformation, including early bylaws, zoning, and residential tenancy regulation. These moved lords of the land closer to landlords, standardizing housing while removing lordly powers to build, regulate, subdivide, and lease as they would. I briefly consider two implications: 1) Evidence suggests that limitations on lordly powers to build and subdivide have dramatically constrained housing options in Vancouver, though semi-illicit persistence of such powers has continued. 2) The stripping of landed sovereignty and municipal (as well as provincial) standardization of housing provides the basis for at least one understanding of the commodification of housing as a process. Finally I describe recent walking back of municipal (and provincial) constraints along with contestation of underlying sovereignty claims by local First Nations.

This paper will be presented at the following session: