What is Eminent Domain?
Eminent domain refers to the government's power (local or federal) to take private land for public use under certain circumstances. For example, the government may take someone's house to make room for a new highway, bridge, school, road, police station, fire station, or even a library. However, courts interpret public use broadly as only a public benefit enacts eminent domain. For instance, some cases have passed eminent domain to increase tax revenues. Moreover, what constitutes public use evolves continually. So if you're in Montgomery, Bucks County, or the greater Philadelphia area, it pays to check with an eminent domain lawyer to ensure the property in question applies to public use.
The law originates from the "Takings Clause" of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The clause states that "private property [should not] be taken for public use without just compensation." But this only applies to private property and must be used for the public good, such as constructing an interstate highway.
It's important to note that the Takings Clause does not give the government permission to take any land it wants. On the contrary, it limits the government's power. As a result, it requires taking when taken for "public use" and in exchange for "just compensation." An eminent domain lawyer can ensure the meeting of these requirements.
There are different categories of takings:
- A complete taking involving the purchase of the entire property
- A partial taking with requirements for only a portion of the property
- A temporary taking involving property used for a specific time
A "taking" includes more than just acquiring a property. For example, it also provides zoning changes that limit a property's use or development plans that decrease its value. Again, an eminent domain lawyer can help determine the legalities of a taking.
What Constitutes Just Compensation?
Generally, just compensation relates to how much the landowner might expect to get in fair market value. However, many factors determine the land's value, including its size and any resources it may have.
Typically, the homeowner requires compensation for their loss. Moreover, the government must first follow several different procedures before taking property. Of critical importance, the government can exercise its power of eminent domain even if the owner does not wish to sell their property. You can work with an eminent domain lawyer to challenge the government's right to take your property. Most challenges relate to the government's failure to follow proper procedures. Unfortunately, most challenges only delay the outcome and fail to prevent the taking of the property. Generally, compensation becomes the principal remedy.
How Does the Eminent Domain Process Work?
Suppose the government plans a public works project and requires the nearby private property to complete the project. Next, the government starts the legal process of eminent domain, otherwise referred to as condemnation.
The process of condemnation varies by state. But the basic steps remain consistent. Talk to an eminent domain lawyer to understand the process better.
First, the government attempts to buy the land from the owner. If the owner agrees to the purchase price, the government issues payment for the deed to the land. However, if the owner and government disagree on the sale price, the parties go to court to determine fair market value. Each party's property appraisal determines that value.
Finally, the government files a court action and posts a public notice of hearing if the owner refuses to sell the property. The government must prove that it attempted to negotiate a sales agreement during that hearing. Moreover, it must prove that the taking is for public use. The landowner can object and present evidence to the contrary.
How Can Our Eminent Domain Lawyers Help?
Our Norristown and Doylestown, PA eminent domain lawyers and real estate attorneys have represented landowners and condemning authorities in eminent domain law actions throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. They are well versed in all aspects of the eminent domain legal process. They have handled proceedings of various types, including roadway development and expansion, open space, and utility and access easements.
At times, taking property can be beneficial for the overall public good. But as a homeowner, it can be trying to know that the government can seize your property. Remember, however, eminent domain requires compensation.
If your property is subject to an action involving eminent domain law, talk to one of our eminent domain lawyers in our Bucks County and Montgomery County law offices. Our lawyers and attorneys can assist you with several real estate concerns, including construction law, real estate litigation, zoning, land development, etc.