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The basics of eminent domain

Ohio residents who buy property expect to be able to use that land as they see fit. There can be limits to this use, though, such as when one becomes part of a homeowner's association. However, even in these circumstances an individual retains ownership of his or her property. Sometimes, though, the government can swoop in and take one's property either with the owner's permission or without it. The government's power to exercise this taking for the furtherance of public good is known as eminent domain.

Although the government has the right to take a private citizen's land, it can only do so for public use and after paying "just compensation." These limits are prescribed by the U.S. Constitution and cannot be avoided. The process of eminent domain usually starts with the government approaching the landowner with an offer. If the offer is accepted, then the property is transferred and the matter comes to an end. Oftentimes, though, disagreements arise as to what constitutes "public use" and "just compensation." This typically leads to court involvement in one of two ways.

The first way involves a hearing over the fair market value of the land. Here, the government and the landowner will put forth evidence to show what they believe to be a fair price for the property in question, and then the court will issue a ruling. At that time, the parties can agree to a sale or, if the disagreement continues and the property owner refuses to sell, then the matter may go back to court.

Those who refuse to sell their land to the government will have a hearing where evidence will be presented to determine whether the government's proposed taking constitutes public use and whether the price offered is just. These hearings are often highly contentious, sometimes requiring the testimony of multiple expert witnesses.

Those who are facing eminent domain may be in for a fight. Although that may be daunting, these individuals may be able to develop a strong defense strategy. In the end, while the government has certain powers, citizens do have rights that deserve to be upheld when appropriate.

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