The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permits government to seize private land for public use under certain circumstances. Governments assert this right, known as eminent domain, against private property owners more frequently than many realize, especially at the state level. Courts analyze and balance several factors to determine two issues: public use and just compensation.
Property owners often dispute “just compensation”
The government must meet satisfy four criteria in an eminent domain claim:
- The property must be private property;
- The authority must be a government entity or private company working under authority of the government;
- The property must be a genuine necessity to the public use project;
- The owner must be paid just compensation.
Most often, property owners contend the money offered does not meet the standard of “just compensation.” No specific formula exists to determine the specific value, as each situation involves different types of property. A house, for example, may use the fair market value. Commercial businesses or farms involve large plots of land whose value may decrease.
Court could address question of legitimate public use
Though rare, successful challenges to an eminent domain may argue there is no legitimate public use, such as a road, railway, or pipeline. A case that the Ohio Supreme Court will likely accept highlights the significance of legitimate public use. An appeals court ruled that a park district lacked the power of eminent domain to expand a rails-to-trails bike path over private property that contains a permanent easement. The court will decide within three to six months whether to accept the appeal.
The balance between private property rights and public purpose involves more than simply federal and state legal protections. There are also financial questions concerning how much to value a piece of property and whether, in fact there is any quantifiable value that can replace the property seized. Attorneys with experience in how to negotiate the issues in an eminent domain case can help property owners understand their rights.