Eminent Domain

What does the legal term "condemnation" mean?

By Brian Farkas, Attorney
A “condemnation” means that the federal or state government is using its power to take private land for public use. “Condemnation” is often used synonymously with “eminent domain” or a “taking.”

A “condemnation” means that the federal or state government is using its power to take private land for public use. “Condemnation” is often used synonymously with “eminent domain” or a “taking.” It might also be called a "forced sale."

All of these legal terms indicate that the government will take private land (in exchange for just compensation to the owner) for some public use.

Potential public uses are broadly defined. For example, the government might decide that it needs to take your land to run a train route or public highway through it. Or it might decide that your land needs to be the site of a new military base. Or it might decide that a school needs to be built there.

Don't be confused by the fact that the word "condemn" is sometimes used when a government authority declares a home or property to be unfit for habitation, as in a slum or tenement. Your property can be in perfectly fine condition and the government can still exercise condemnation power over it.

The idea behind this governmental power is that the property interests of a single person should not impede the ability of the government to do what is best for society at large.

Typically, the government will take both possession and legal title to your property. There are certain cases, known as “inverse condemnation,” where the government has taken physical possession without going through the appropriate legal process of notifying the owner and paying just compensation. In these instances, the owner can file an “inverse condemnation” claim. While the owner cannot refuse the government’s right to take the land, he or she can demand just compensation for the taking.

Go to the main eminent domain FAQ page.

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