Eminent domain is something that you should be aware of if you are a property owner, regardless of where you own your property. You need to be ready in case the government seizes your property so that you know how to react and it won't take you by surprise. Eminent domain can be complicated, but it is important that you know how it works and what your legal recourses are in the even of eminent domain.
What Is Eminent Domain?
Eminent domain is essentially the power of the government to seize property, specifically private property for public use, under a number of different circumstances. There are numerous examples of eminent domain; one of the most common invocations of eminent domain is the government seizing someone's property in order to make way for a road, specifically a portion of a highway or an interstate.
This is not to say that the government can do this willy-nilly; they must meet certain conditions. For example, the owner of the property must often be compensated for his or her loss of property and the government must go through several procedural techniques that can take a number of years to enact.
How Does Eminent Domain Work?
As cities, states and in some cases even the federal government make provisions for expanding -- particularly with regards to matter that requires land for things like road expansion and sewer systems -- they must occasionally use property that they have no access to.
The government can invoke eminent domain on any piece of land, in which they will seize private property for their own use, so long as the property will be explicitly used for public reasons. The first thing the government must do before invoking eminent domain is have the particular piece of property, along with any assets that are endemic to the property – such as free standing buildings, like houses – appraised.
The government will then offer that appraisal price to the owner of the private property. If the owner agrees, then the government will give the appraisal price amount to the owner of the property, and the government can do what it sees fit to the property. If the price is not agreed upon, the owner of the property has the ability to try to haggle with the government and set a higher price, but more often than not, if a price has not been agreed upon, then both parties must enter condemnation proceedings.
Challenging Eminent Domain
First and foremost, the government must give the owner of the property fair notice of invoking eminent domain. What constitutes "fair notice" varies from state to state and county to county, but generally speaking, this time must be enough time for the aggrieved party to seek legal counsel from a real estate attorney so they can dispute the claim or invocation of eminent domain.
A pre-trial hearing will take place in which the aggrieved party can air his, her or their grievances and the government can invoke its justification for invoking eminent domain. It will most likely be the case that the aggrieved party and the government will enter into a condemnation proceeding, however. This process varies from state to state, and the structural differences can be quite different from each.
Each state requires a minimum number of hearings that must take place between the two parties, and various other contingent features that exist between the two parties must be resolved. In many cases, if the two parties enter into condemnation hearings, the aggrieved party can request remedies in which a person's court fees or lost earnings must be provided by the government.
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