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Understanding the Definition of Eminent Domain and the Government’s Power

Understanding the Definition of Eminent Domain and the Government’s Power

By on Aug 4, 2014 in Eminent Domain Case |

The whole idea of eminent domain is foreign to many property owners.  You may not realize it, but the government has a great deal of power in terms of what they are able to do and seize from a property standpoint.  This is not just limited to real property, but can actually extend to intangible assets or some other assets that are not your typical building, home, or piece of land.

What exactly is eminent domain, though, and what gives the government so much power as a result of it?  Gaining an understanding of these two areas can help you better grasp exactly what the government could do from a property seizure standpoint, and what they simply are not allowed to do.  Let’s take a look at the meaning of the term and what power the government actually possesses.

Defining Eminent Domain

The eminent domain term dates back to the 1600s.  The term itself, which started as a treaty known as De Jure Belli et Pacis, gives the government the power to take any piece of property that they wish.  In Latin, the term eminent domain translates to dominium eminens.  This tells you right off the bat that eminent domain is nothing new.  The government has had this power for centuries now and continues to invoke it when they deem it necessary.

Eminent domain, also known as appropriation and expropriation, is the act by which the government would seize a piece of property that they deem necessary for public use.  As long as the use of the piece of properly can be justified in this manner, it can be taken under this law.

The one caveat to that is that the government has to pay the property owner fair compensation.  The way in which fair compensation is calculated can vary depending on several circumstances.  If the property in question is a single-family home, then the fair compensation may be the current market value of the home.  If that property, though, is something like an intangible asset, such as a brand, then the value is going to have to be perceived in some other way.

The end game with any eminent domain case is justifying, in the eyes of the government, that your property is necessary for public use.  Once they do that, the negotiation begins to determine fair compensation to close the deal.

The Power of the Government

The good thing about eminent domain is that knowing the law gives you the power to negotiate with the government.  You do not have to just accept whatever offer the government throws at you for your property.  If they can prove the property is needed for public use, then they can progress to the state where they will begin to negotiate with you over the fair market value.

The government is likely to use their power to start by giving you an offer that is on the lower end of the spectrum.  From there, the negotiation is going to begin to try and get to a price that you believe is fair based on the property value in your mind.  In the event that no agreement can be reached, it can go to court.  In this instance, a judge can help decide and ultimately rule on what the fair compensation is actually going to be.

The power of the government lets them start the process of trying to seize your property.  The key to remember is that it does not give them the power to just take it without giving you anything in return.  Even if you cannot come to an agreement on a fair price, you can rely on the court system to help you at least get compensated in a more justified manner.

Eminent domain, from a definitional standpoint, is the part of the law in the United States that gives the government the power to seize a piece of property.  This could be anything from a home, to a piece of land, an automobile, and so on.  In the event that they can prove it is needed for the use of the public, then eminent domain can be used to try to obtain it.

The government’s power, though, stops at that point.  From there, it is up to you and the government to negotiate a fair compensation that is going to suit both parties.  In the event that eminent domain is invoked to take a piece of your property, knowing what the government has in terms of actual power can give you some clout to hold your ground with.