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Is Eminent Domain Always in the Public Interest?

Posted on September 20 2014 by Gabriela Ocampo

Anyone who has every owned property is in some form or fashion familiar with the concept of eminent domain, the process whereby a government entity can come in and claim private property, paying the rightful owners fair market value. Traditionally, the high value Americans place on their right to own property, and their right to not simply have all that they have worked for simply swept out from under them has kept governments from abusing the practice.

When the government seeks taking of private property to build a new school, courthouse, hospital or road, those who may be getting uprooted by eminent domain may get our sympathy, but not much else. There are simply times when the greater good of the public outweighs an individual’s rights. However, there have been cases where either state or local municipalities have overstepped their bounds in an attempt to cash big checks on projects that may not represent the whole of the public interest.

Recently, the impetus for eminent domain seizure has not been schools or hospitals, but instead a new housing developments that will fill the municipalities coffers with higher property tax income. It’s hard enough to give up your land when a municipality wants to use it for something that will be publicly owned, such as a road. The courts system have been seeing more and more cases like Kelo v. City of New London (2005), where the intended use of property claimed by eminent domain is not public, but to be transferred to another private owner.

This landmark case opened a Pandora’s Box for cities in the United States, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the City of New London was acting within its rights under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to seize lands that were to be later transferred to a privately-held development company. The logic? That a new development would generally benefit the public of New London via economic development.

In response to the public backlash that erupted not only in New London, but across America, many states have subsequently enacted laws limiting the reach of eminent domain. That does not mean, however, that other municipalities have not tried similar takings, bolstered by the legal precedent.

When it comes to eminent domain, it is important that property owners know their rights, and are ready to stand up for them. Just because a federal, state or local entity has enacted a taking order on your property does not mean you do not maintain your rights. In any eminent domain situation, you have the right to demand a public hearing, and a right to just compensation for everything you have worked so hard for.

At the Century Law Group, we specialize in representing your rights of property ownership against the reach of eminent domain. It is the only legal niche we operate in, and we only fight to protect the rights of property owners. When you come to us for help, you can rest assured that we only have your legal rights in mind. Our motivation is to make sure you get compensation for your property, and that your rights are ultimately safeguarded.