Most Americans assume that once they buy property, it’s theirs forever as long as they continue to pay property taxes on it. That’s not necessarily the case.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution contains a “Takings Clause” that allows the government to seize an individual’s private land for its public use in specific instances through a process called “eminent domain.”
What is “public use” in eminent domain?
Government officials can’t arbitrarily take your property, claiming that they plan to use it. They must show proof that the property that they’re planning to seize will indeed serve some kind of public good.
Some instances in which the government may justify that their seizure of property through a condemnation or eminent domain action is legitimate is if they plan to use it:
- To extend the boundaries of national or other public parks
- In erecting government offices, including buildings for mail services
- To improve transportation infrastructures, such as bridges, highways and railroads
- In readying for war or tactical operations
- To install or improve water supply initiatives
A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling shed light on the court’s more expansive understanding of applying the “public use” standard. The justices said that structures including the following also benefited communities:
- Condo or apartment buildings
- Fitness centers
- Shopping centers
The 2005 Supreme Court ruling, therefore, seemingly cleared the way for developers to petition government officials to pursue eminent domain actions against private property owners to clear the way for the above-referenced buildings.
Are you facing eminent domain action?
It can be scary having government officials reach out to you to let you know that they plan to take your property and make it accessible for “public use” as part of an eminent domain action. You owe it to yourself to speak with someone who has experience handling eminent domain cases to learn more about your rights in your situation.