Three Commonly Asked Questions About Eminent Domain

1. What is Eminent Domain? Eminent Domain is the power possessed by the State Government, ensured by the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to command ownership over any state property for either state or commercial use. In exchange for seized property the government must pay the property’s former owner “fair value” for the property.

2. What is the process for Eminent Domain? Eminent Domain varies depending on the state in which you reside, but the general steps are roughly the same. When a local government wants to take ownership of a plot of land or structure it first contacts the owner of the property in order to negotiate a price. If a price cannot be set the government and property owner proceed to a hearing process where a “fair value” can be found. This involves the cooperation of attorneys and appraisers as well as a jury to rule on a verdict to set the price. If a property owner flat out refuses sale the government can initiate a court action. If the government wins this case an appraiser is brought in to establish fair market value for the property. Following this the property owner is paid and then evicted.

3. Does the Government abuse its right of Eminent Domain? In recent years this right has been under scrutiny due to a stretch of the definition of the term “public use”. Recent Supreme Court rulings have fallen in favor of governments that invoke Eminent Domain in order to erect office buildings, shopping malls and hotels. Basically, the term “public use” has come to mean anything that could potentially provide tax revenue for the state or local government. This isn’t to say that any home or private business owner that goes toe to toe with local government in an Eminent Domain case cannot win. However, the road to victory is long and difficult.