Steal This Land – Is Eminent Domain Always In The Public Interest?

eminent domain - land for sale or stealPicture a country where the government can seize your property against your will and give it to another private entity. If you’re thinking that this is some obscure land in some third world country, guess again. The country that I am referring to is the United States and the process that they use to take one’s property is called eminent domain.

What is eminent domain.  In short, it is the right of a government to seize private property for public use, in exchange for payment of fair market value.  Fair market value can be defined as the highest price somebody would pay for the property, were it in the hands of a willing seller. But what if you didn’t want to sell at any price?

Most people are aware that under a process called eminent domain, the government can (and does) seize private property for public use, such as building a road, a school or a courthouse. But did you know the government can also seize your land for private use if they can prove that doing so will serve “the public good”?

All across this country, cities have been forcing people off of their land, so private developers can build more expensive homes, condos  and office buildings  that will pay more in property taxes than the buildings they’re replacing.

In recent years some governments have been inclined to exercise eminent domain for the benefit of developers or commercial interests, on the basis that anything that increases the value of a given piece of land is a sufficient public good. Given that broad definition,  almost any property could be made more valuable if developed in a different manner and is therefore in jeopardy of being taken.

This process is becoming a nationwide epidemic with over 10,000 instances documented of government taking property from one person to give it to another in just the last five years.

One particular case that comes to mind was in Lakewood, Ohio, where the town wished to exercise eminent domain over an entire residential neighborhood, so that an upscale condominium development could be built on that land. The scope of this action included 55 single family homes, several apartment buildings and more than a dozen businesses.  

In order to legally invoke eminent domain, the city had to certify that the area was “blighted.” They then established a criteria that defined any home within the neighborhood as “blighted” if it did not have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an attached two car garage, and central air conditioning. The homeowners band together and eventually defeated the proposed development project.

As this trend continues, we need to be aware of the potential for abuse when invoking eminent domain. I believe that more stringent procedures need to be in place in order to protect the citizens of this country against losing their property for economic reasons rather than the public good.

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