Eminent Domain FAQ

The government has the power to take private property for public use. This power is called eminent domain. The US Department of Transportation has information about federal eminent domain power. Every state has its own laws about the taking of private property. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about eminent domain.


Q:

Where does eminent domain power come from?


  • A:

    The power to take private property for public use comes from the US Constitution, federal laws, state constitutions and state laws.


Q:

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


  • A:

    Yes, local governments, such as cities, towns and counties, also have eminent domain power.


Q:

What other entities have the power of eminent domain?


  • A:

    Some quasi-government agencies can exercise the power of eminent domain, including utility companies, airports, school boards and highway commissions.


Q:

What does the term "condemnation" mean?


  • A:

    The formal process of taking private property for public use by eminent domain is called condemnation.


Q:

Can a government take my private property by eminent domain for any reason?


  • A:

    No, a government can only take property by eminent domain for a public use that's necessary.


Q:

What does the term "public use" mean for purposes of eminent domain?


  • A:

    Courts are generally lenient as to what's considered "public use" for eminent domain purposes. Any type of public benefit for taking private property is usually considered a "public use."


Q:

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


  • A:

    You're entitled to "just compensation" for your property.


Q:

Will the "just compensation" for my property be fair?


  • A:

    The money you receive for your property won't be less than its fair market value, which is the amount a willing buyer would pay for the property.


Q:

How's my property's fair market value established?


  • A:

    An appraiser will determine the fair market value. His report will usually determine how much money is offered for your property.


Q:

What factors will the appraiser consider when he's determining my property's fair market value?


  • A:

    The appraiser will consider the best use for your property. He'll examine any relevant factors that might influence the property's value and consider similar property sales in your area. The appraiser will also consider any improvements or structures on your property.


Q:

What happens if I don't agree with the fair market value determined by the appraiser?


  • A:

    Your state law will usually determine which entity decides the amount offered and the appeal process. Many times a specific board of commissioners determines the amount offered. If you don't agree with the amount, a trial by judge or jury may be scheduled to determine the final amount.


Q:

Am I entitled to notice before a government can take my property by eminent domain?


  • A:

    The government or agency must give you notice of any condemnation hearings so that you have the opportunity to present your side.



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