What is eminent domain?

By Jedidiah McKeehan

In the U.S., when you own property you have the right to use that property as you see fit.

Obviously, there are some notable exceptions to this.  Cities and counties can enact codes that require you to mow your grass and keep your property clean.  Homeowners Associations can require a whole bunch of things for you to do, including what kind of mailbox you can use.  If law enforcement believes your residence is the ongoing source of trouble, they may shutter your home for being a nuisance or a house where crimes are consistently committed.  And of course, if you do not make your mortgage payments or pay your property taxes, the bank or a governmental entity may come for your property for your failure to pay.

However, none of those are bad as the government’s ability to take your property by means of exercising their eminent domain abilities.  Your property can be in perfect condition, totally paid off, and you are minding your own business, and the government can decide that they need your property for some purpose.  This idea is based on the premise that the use for which the government needs the property is superior to the needs of the individual.

In this part of the country, most people are familiar with individuals being run out of their home so TVA could build a number of dams to control flooding in the Tennessee Valley.  People certainly were not happy about it, but the federal government was deemed to be taking these people’s properties for the greater benefit of the public at large.

Similarly, if the government decides that a new road needs to be built and the best way for the road is to go across your property, then you may not have any choice in them using your property for that road.

It’s important to note that the government is supposed to compensate individuals for taking their property.  There are no guarantees that the amount of compensation provided will be fair or equitable, but it is supposed to be.  And the land owner may say that they do not want to give up their property, for any amount of money.  I am sorry, in all likelihood, you will lose that argument every single time.

 

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, divorce, custody, personal injury, landlord-tenant, civil litigation and estate planning. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.

 

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