Eminent domain refers to the government's right to "take" private property in order to use it for a public project. Understandably, this concept sparks fear and anger amongst property owners who have been or feel that they may become affected. Yet the fear and anger are often based on misinformation. When confronted with the prospect of transferring ownership of a property to the government or the threat of condemnation, property owners may jump to incorrect conclusions about what may actually occur. It's true that eminent domain powers can be abused, but it's also important to negate the unnecessary fear and anger associated with the concept due to misunderstandings about the process.
A Few Common Misconceptions About Eminent Domain:
Misconception: The government can randomly pick how much to pay a property owner for their holdings.
Truth: According to the law, the government is required to pay "just" compensation to property owners. Just compensation is determined according to current market value for the property. The government will, of course, attempt to negotiate the lowest price possible in the given situation, but the negotiations will be based on the pricing in the current market.
Misconception: It's best to hold out for the highest payout instead of coming to an agreement.
Truth: Stubbornness during negotiations will often only lead to costly litigation and other expenses associated with the negotiations. The slight gains of "holding out" for a significant government payout for a property simply don't usually compare. It's best to obtain an experienced attorney and reach an ideal agreement.
Misconception: Eminent domain powers cater to state agencies and local governments - they can use them as they will.
Truth: The authority to use eminent domain powers is granted by the legislature for specific purposes. In most cases it is reserved for necessary projects (i.e. schools, roads, parks, buildings for public use, etc.) The government is not able to use the eminent domain powers to take beyond the circumstances mandated by law.
Misconception: The government has to pay for any interference with private property.
Truth: When construction begins on a government project, private properties in the area may be impacted. For instance, when a new highway is being built near a private property, the route to that property may be blocked and alternate routes will become necessary. The owners may not be entitled to compensation for their trouble. Situations in which private property owners may be able to recover compensation are those in which the undertaking of a government project in the area caused substantial damage (i.e. landslide, flooding, etc. to private property as a result of work on the government project).
If you have questions about eminent domain, how it can affect your private property or whether you may deserve compensation for damages related to a government project in your area, please get in touch with an experienced eminent domain attorney at The Law Office of Retz & Aldover LLP so we can assess your situation.