What every homeowner should know about eminent domain

Eminent domain is a concept that not every homeowner will deal with, but if you do, it helps to know as much as possible about it. Find out your rights.

Homeowners are generally given the right to their legally owned property. They have the right to use it and not fear someone else could come and take it from them. However, the Constitution states an exceptions to this called eminent domain, which gives governments the right to take private property for their use. Understanding how this works and the exceptions are important for every home or land owner.

What is eminent domain?

The 190th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts explains eminent domain is when a government body or authority takes the land of a private citizen for use to better the community. It has to be done through a formal process, and the private citizen must be compensated for the real estate taken.

What happens when eminent domain is evoked?

Commonly, according to U.S. News and World Report, parts of land are taken under eminent domain to widen a road or install a new roadway. However, the government can bid to take all a person's property for any use that benefits the public. Typically, a notice is given to the property owner, along with legal papers stating what land will be taken and how much compensation will be offered.

What should a homeowner do when he or she receives notice?

It is important that a homeowner does not ignore the notice he or she receives. It should be taken seriously. Homeowners should contact an attorney to look over the paperwork and explain exactly what is happening. The attorney should also look over the intended use to ensure it is fair. In addition, a proper appraisal should be done to ensure the compensation is indeed adequate for the property being taken.

Can eminent domain be fought?

According to Commonwealth, the whole concept of eminent domain depends on what the land will be used for. If it is not for the betterment of the public, then it may not be legal. In that case, a homeowner very well could fight it in court and win. However, most jurisdictions carefully ensure the reasoning behind it is solid, so once a person is served with a notice, there is not much he or she can do to stop it.

That does not mean abuse of the system does not occur. In recent years, the state has seen cases where government has tried to take property under eminent domain for commercial gains, i.e. helping a commercial developer get land so the government can benefit through tax revenue. When property owners are vigilant and get assistance with notices, cases like these can be fought. However, if land owners do not seek help and simply go along with the government's demands, there is no recourse after the fact.

If you are facing an eminent domain situation, consider consulting an attorney, such as Phillips & Angley. Getting a legal viewpoint could help you save your property.