Legal Topics


Dealing with Eminent Domain

In property law, one key phrase that comes up in discussions of neighborhood zoning is "eminent domain." This term refers to the government's power to take private property and readapt it for public use. This power is available to governments on a federal, state, and local level; the latter sections of government are usually the ones which carry out eminent domain the most often.

If you own property or live in a private residence, you should be well-informed about how eminent domain works and how to protect yourself from its abuse.

How Eminent Domain Works

Despite how it sounds, this legal authority doesn't give the government the power to take anyone's property at will. The government has to make a case that the property in question is condemned for a legitimate reason and that it will be put to public use in the future. In addition, according to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, the government must be willing to provide "just compensation" for the owner of the condemned property.

In recent years, it's become common for local governments to acquire property and then turn it over to private developers for the purpose of "economic development." This can only be considered fair public use if the property in question is suffering from a major blight or defect that would pose a risk to the general good.

The government must give notice to the property owner within 30 days before it can file a claim for eminent domain. If the owner does not accept the offered compensation, the matter can be taken to court for further review.

How an Eminent Domain Lawyer Can Help

If you need to select a lawyer for help in an eminent domain case, you'll want someone who has experience with your state's eminent domain laws. Some law firms specialize in this field exclusively, but they're not available in every community. You can also turn to a legal aid clinic for help.

For the most part, it is very difficult to actually stop the government from appropriating property once it has made a credible claim for public use. In that case, a good eminent domain lawyer will be less focused on stopping the claim itself and more on ensuring that you receive fair compensation for your loss.

In some cases, when the government has taken a claim of eminent domain against an entire community, it's possible for residents to band together and seek joint representation in court from a single lawyer or law firm. This ensures that every voice is being heard and gives the court a chance to properly review the government's claim.

Image by Steve Soblick on Flickr

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