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Eminent domain: What is just compensation?

The U.S. Constitution allows for the governmental taking of private property for public use, but only after "just compensation" is paid. This is known as eminent domain. This process may seem wholly unfair, and in some instances that is the case. However, eminent domain can be challenged in a number of ways. One way is to question whether private property is truly being taken for public use. Another commonly contested matter is what constitutes "just compensation."

The process of determining just compensation can be enormously complicated. While the goal of just compensation is to leave a property owner in the same financial position he or she would have been in if the taking never occurred, valuing a property and its depreciation due to government action can be challenging. To determine what constitutes just compensation, the parties involved typically try to calculate the fair market value of the land in question.

This determination is fact-specific, which means that a lot of factors can come into play. Amongst these factors are the amount of land being taken, zoning regulations that are in play, the land's accessibility, any unique features found on the property and current and potential use of the land. There are multiple ways to approach calculating fair market value, which we will address in another post, but suffice it to say that the parties involved in an eminent domain case typically seek out expert testimony in order to support their calculation.

Sometimes when the government seeks to take property there is nothing a property owner can do to stop it. However, even in these circumstances a landowner may be able to take legal action to protect his or her right to fair and just compensation. To present a coherent and compelling case, though, these landowners need an advocate on their side who understands this area of the law and its complexities. Fortunately, legal professionals who are experienced in this area of the law stand ready to help.

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