As Ohio’s cities and towns continue to grow, the government exercises eminent domain to a greater extent. Here, the government takes private property for public use in exchange for just compensation. However, the private property owner has very little say in the matter. That may all change if a bill proposed in the Ohio House of Representatives becomes law.
How the bill would change eminent domain laws
The bill, which likely won’t be fully considered until November of 2022 or later, proposes sweeping changes to the state’s eminent domain laws to the benefit of private property owners. Here are just some of the ways that those laws would be changed:
- Eliminates the rebuttable presumption: As the law currently stands, it is often presumed that a government’s requested taking is necessary to further a public use. Under the proposed bill, though, this presumption would cease to exist, meaning that the burden of proof would shift back to the government, thereby forcing it to prove that the taking is necessary. This is a major shift, as right now, the onus is on private property owners to show that the taking isn’t necessary.
- Changes the standard of proof: Under current law, the government only has to prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence, which essentially means they only have to prove their case by 51% or more. The proposed bill seeks to make eminent domain cases subject to a higher standard of proof, that being clear and convincing evidence, which will make it harder for the government to prove that it’s justified in taking private property from a landowner.
- Ceases the irrebuttable presumption: Right now, utility companies enjoy an irrebuttable presumption that a taking is necessary to further the public interest. The proposed bill would provide some exceptions to that general rule, as the utilities would have to seek approval from a regulating authority before the presumption would apply. This provides greater protection for private property owners.
- Changes how legal fees are awarded: If you end up embroiled in an eminent domain case, you’re probably only going to recover attorney fees if you completely win your case. Under the proposed bill, though, you’d be able to recover some of your fees even if you’re partially successful in your case or if the government appeals the initial determination in your eminent domain case.
- Creates a right to direct action for inverse condemnation: When the government restricts your land so much that it constitutes a taking, it can be difficult under the current statutory scheme to bring a claim against the government to recover compensation for the taking. Under the proposed bill, though, private property owners would have a right to take direct action against the government while cutting through some of the red tape that currently exists. This will make it much easier for property owners to recover the compensation to which they’re entitled, especially given that they’ll only have to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence.
Fight for the outcome that you deserve
Remember, these changes are only proposed and may or may not become law. Hopefully, the bill will pass and provide greater protections to private property owners.
In the meantime, you still need to be prepared to protect your interests in your eminent domain case. This means knowing the law and how to exploit it to your advantage. With so much on the line, you owe it to yourself to advocate as aggressively as possible in these matters. That’s where the assistance of an experienced eminent domain attorney may prove beneficial.