Ownership of personal property is something that people in the United States often think of as a fundamental right. This is one of the differences of American culture, as compared to the cultures that it came out of. The state is not supposed to own everything, but individual property owners and business owners are supposed to have those rights.
But this doesn’t mean the state owns nothing, of course, and there are ways for the state to take property from private citizens. One way to do this is eminent domain. By using eminent domain laws, the government can declare that they need a certain piece of real estate for a public work project – such as an interstate or a railroad – and they can then take that land from the person who already owned it.
But how can this be legal when it seems to be in such contrast to the American ideals of property ownership?
The government does have to pay just compensation
Eminent domain laws are legal because the government is supposed to give just compensation to the individual property owner. They are not simply taking the land. They are buying it for fair market value. While the property owner may not have much of a choice in the matter, they should still be paid for their land.
But what this means is that many disputes over eminent domain revolve around fair market value. What is the real value of the land? Is the government lowballing an individual property owner? Those who find themselves in this situation need to understand all their legal options.