Eminent Domain refers to the acquiring of your private land by the local government. There are many reasons the U.S. government can claim your private property.

Public works are projects that are developed and financed by the government to improve the health, safety, and quality of peoples’ lives. They can be safety-related, such as bridge and tunnel improvements; recreational, such as public parks; health and safety related, such as hospitals; and educational, such as schools and libraries. 

As our population grows, it is sometimes necessary for the government to make way for utility projects. Sometimes that means having to take away portions of privately owned land for expansion or repair. Some examples of areas for utility projects include electric, gas, sewer, and water. Sometimes utility workers must ask for an easement, which gives legal authority for someone to use another person’s property. In a typical transaction, the landowner is approached with a request and negotiations begin. If an deal is agreed upon, a legal document gets created, such as a deed. Depending on the type of easement, subsequent homeowners may not be compensated the same way as the original homeowner. There are different types of easements, such as a right of way, which is when a neighbor needs to cross another neighbor’s property in order to access a main thoroughfare, or when people need to pass through private property in order to access a recreational area. In the case of utility companies, there is sometimes a need to run power or cable lines that cross someone’s property, especially if it’s a new development that needs to join an existing structure.

Sometimes disrepair and neglect are reasons the government may need to step in. If a building or entire neighborhood is condemned or vacant, it’s an invitation for crime and can pose a public safety issue, so it might be decided that the better option for people’s quality of life is to tear down existing structures and/or roads to make way for new development. If a homeowner has substantial debt, the government may force the property owner to sell property in order to repay creditors.

It used to be that only government wielded this type of power. In the 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London, it was decided that private developers can also use eminent domain in addition to local government. They would need to first prove that any changes will be beneficial to the community at large through economic benefits or otherwise. However, many states have opposed this law because they worry it can lead to an abuse of power.

About Ephraim Vashovsky