Eminent Domain

Am I entitled to any money if the government takes my property by eminent domain?

By Brian Farkas, Attorney
Can the government literally take your property without paying for it?

Yes, you would be entitled to money in the event of a government taking. In fact, your right to be compensated for property taken from you by the government is so absolute that it is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which notes that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Some of the original framers of the Constitution, as well as the U.S. Congress, felt strongly that the American people needed this Constitutional protection from potential government overreach, and thus added this so-called Takings Clause to the Constitution within the Bill of Rights.

If the federal or state government takes your land through its eminent domain power, what sort of “just compensation” can you expect? Typically, the government will send you a notice of its intent to take your land, and will also notify you that an appraiser will make an evaluation of your property’s value. This appraisal will be based upon the fair market value of the land, taking into account the location, improvements to your property, natural resources, and real estate market conditions in the area, among other factors.

After the government’s appraiser does his or her work, a recommendation will be made to the government, and the government will make you a monetary offer to purchase the land. You may be pleasantly surprised by that number, and accept, or you might feel that it is far too low. You have the right to hire your own appraiser and challenge the government’s offer for what qualifies as “just compensation.”

Sometimes, you (or your lawyer) might be able to come to a settlement regarding the compensation from the government; perhaps a number between your appraiser’s estimate and the government appraiser’s estimate. If you cannot reach a deal, however, you can proceed to court and challenge the government’s number with your own expert testimony.

While a court is unlikely to question the government’s ability to take your land, it is not bound to accept the government’s fair market value calculation. The court, as the finder of fact, will make a determination about the appropriate value of the property based upon all of the evidence submitted.

In short, you are entitled to receive fair market value for the government’s taking of your land. The precise figure, however, may not be easy to agree upon.

Go to the main eminent domain FAQ page.

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