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What is eminent domain?

Whether new construction or part of an expansion, at times; public infrastructure projects like those related to highways, bridges and airports may infringe on the rights of private landowners. Via a process known as eminent domain, the government is allowed to legally take a private home or land parcel for public use. For a property owner who is directly impacted by eminent domain, it's important to understand the specific rules that apply as well as your legal rights.

The government's rights to eminent domain are outlined in the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment and allow the government to take private land for the use of public good. There are, however, procedures that the government must follow with regard to providing landowners acceptable notice and just compensation. In cases where a landowner objects to an eminent domain action, he or she can also choose to challenge the action in court.

The government is legally required to attempt to negotiate with the landowner in good faith. In cases where a landowner does not accept or agree with the terms and/or price proposed by the government representative, he or she can contest one or both actions. If the parties still aren't able to come to an agreement, the landowner can "petition in court, under the auspices of violation of constitutional rights."

At a court hearing, both sides are given the opportunity to introduce evidence and call witnesses. The process, including appeals, may take years and can effectively delay projects. However, even in cases where a landowner wins on appeal, he or she is typically compensated, but not allowed to keep a home or land parcel.

In addition to landowners whose property is the subject of an eminent domain action by the government, landowners whose properties are devalued as a result of an eminent domain action may also choose to take legal action to recover monetary damages. When considering a monetary award in these types of actions, steps are taken to determine the "monetary difference between the devalued property and its fair market value."

Source:, "Eminent Domain," Feb. 8, 2016

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