Eminent Domain

Did you know that the government has the power to legally take your property from you? 

That power is called “Eminent Domain” and it is derived from the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution which says in part “…nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”  This short clause gives all governments, federal, state and local, the power to take your property through a process called condemnation.  However, your property has to be taken for a “public purpose” and they have to pay you “just compensation.”  Let’s examine this a little closer.

Modern Day Eminent Domain

The term “public purpose” has been greatly expanded in scope in recent years.  It used to mean that the government could only take your private property for a truly public purpose, such as building or widening a road, building a school or senior center, utility rights-of-way, things that most would say are traditionally public purposes.  The relatively famous Supreme Court Case known as Kelo significantly broadened the definition of “public purpose.”

In the Kelo Case, the Supreme Court ruled that “economic development” is a public purpose.  In other words, increasing the tax base is a public purpose.  What does that mean to you?  Let’s say you have a single family home that your family has lived in for generations.  A developer comes along and wants to build a shopping center, high rise office building, casino or what ever – and needs your land but you do not want to sell.  The Kelo ruling means that the government can now take your property and give it to the developer for the so called “public purpose of economic development.”  There are variations from state to state, but this is perfectly legal.

But they have to pay you for it right?  That is what that phrase …read more