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Eminent domain is a confusing concept for many people. It seems contrary to everything we know about the concept of ownership that the government can force the sale of private property, but it happens to thousands of landowners every year.
If you’re facing an eminent domain action, you’re likely coming across terms and concepts that are completely foreign to you. Here is some information to help you make sense of what’s going on. For more information, don’t hesitate to call our office to speak to an attorney about your case. It won’t cost you anything, and in most cases, we will only collect legal fees if we are able to increase the amount of money you receive for your property (more on that later).
Let’s start with the basics. Eminent domain is the government’s power to seize private property. For the federal government, the power of eminent domain is granted by the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution. All 50 states can exercise eminent domain with their own borders as well and are authorized to do so by various provisions of state law.
You may be thinking, “the government can’t just take my property whenever it wants without giving me something” – and you’d be right. The Constitution requires that governments that seize private property are required to provide the owner of that property with “just compensation.” In addition, private property can only be taken for a public purpose.
Easy enough right? The government can only take your property if they pay you and they are using it for a public purpose like road expansions, a hospital, school, or something else that will benefit the public. Not so fast. While these examples certainly fit within the definition of a “public purpose,” so do many things that you may initially think only benefit another private party. Say, for example, your local utility company wants to build additional infrastructure – almost certainly a public purpose. In fact, the Supreme Court has even held that eminent domain can be used to transfer land to a private developer if it furthers economic development.
Typically, “just compensation” means the fair market value of the property at issue, which in turn refers to the amount that a property would sell for on the open market. Generally speaking, just compensation is the most disputed issue in eminent domain cases, as the vast majority of attempted exercises of eminent domain are valid. Because determining the value of a property can be complicated (particularly when eminent domain affects an investment or commercial property), owners should always seek legal counsel before accepting an offer.
If you’ve been approached by someone regarding a potential eminent domain action that may affect your property, you should speak to an attorney as soon as you can. In many cases, people who are represented by counsel during the negotiation process obtain significantly more compensation than those who choose to handle the matter themselves. To schedule a free case evaluation with one of our lawyers, call our office today at 888-318-3761 or send us an email through our online contact form.
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