Eminent Domain

Do local governments have eminent domain power just like the federal and state governments?

By Brian Farkas, Attorney
Private property owners beware: Cities, towns, counties, and other municipalities have the same eminent domain power as the federal and state government.

Yes. Cities, towns, counties, and other municipalities have the same eminent domain power as the federal and state government. The extent of these powers varies by jurisdiction, and is explained in the state’s constitution and/or legislation.

The justification for giving local governments the same power eminent domain power as the federal government is simple. Just as the federal government might need to take a piece of private property to construct a massive multi-state highway for the public benefit, a local government might have similar needs, albeit on a smaller scale.

For example, a municipality might need to move a sewer system, or run a road through private land. These sorts of projects are certainly not as massive as a multi-state federal project, but they are still undertaken for public use. The idea is that private land interests should not inhibit the government from benefiting society at large.

Keep in mind that, if the use is small-scale, your entire property might not be taken. For example, in the case of a road being widened, the government might take only a shaved-off portion of the perimeter of your property.

Fortunately, local governments are also constrained by the same Constitutional requirement as state and federal governments: They must pay “just compensation” for any private property that is taken.

Go to the main eminent domain FAQ page.

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