« Back to Home

A Homeowner's Guide To Eminent Domain

Posted on

If you own a home, you might assume that no one can take it away from you without your consent. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Under a legal concept known as eminent domain, the state or federal government has the power to confiscate your residence in some circumstances. This article examines the issue in more detail. 

How It Works  

The government has a right under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S Constitution to confiscate private property, such as a home or a piece of land, as long as the confiscation is for a public purpose and the owner is fairly compensated. For example, if the government wants to build a railroad or highway through your property, they have the right to take your house and the surrounding land if they purchase it for a reasonable price.   

In some instances, the government might take private property and give it to a private developer. A 2005 Supreme Court decision allows this if the ultimate goal of the confiscation is for the public good, such as to improve the economic development of the community.   

Contesting the Action 

You have the right to challenge the government if they give you notice that they intend to use eminent domain to take your house. You can challenge both the confiscation of your property as well as the amount of compensation you are entitled to. If you fail to win your challenge at a local hearing, you also have the right to pursue the matter in court. 

One point that homeowners and property owners often contest in eminent domain cases is the purchase price. The government is required to offer you fair market value, but you might disagree with their interpretation of fair market value. A key point to remember is that if you take a challenge to court and lose, you could be responsible for the government' s court costs. 

Compensation Exceptions  

The government is not always required to offer you compensation for your house.  Two primary exceptions exist. For example, if the house has been abandoned for a certain length of time, most states allow for confiscation without paying the owner. Also, if the authorities can provide evidence that your house is being used for criminal activity, they can typically take the home outright. 

It's extremely difficult for the average homeowner to navigate the complex legal issues surrounding eminent domain without expert assistance. To learn more, contact an experienced residential real estate lawyer.