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What Is Eminent Domain?

Initially found in the Constitution, eminent domain details the right of a government to take possession of private property for its own use. A government can acquire private property through monetary compensation with the private owner’s consent. Eminent domain does not apply only to real estate property but to any kind of private, personal property that can be taken by the government such as trade secrets and copyrights.

Governments may elect to purchase private property if there is justifiable cause, usually in an effort to pave a public road, build public transportation, or for the general use or benefit of the public. The private property can be bought at a price that is seen justifiable by the government, and the title to the property may be transferred to the government from the owner after the owner consents to the price. This transfer of title is referred to as condemnation.

Owners of the property in dispute can choose to sue the government if said owners are not justly compensated. If owners can prove that a fair market value is not the basis of the price at which the government is willing to purchase, then the owners may reject the offer. It is also possible that owners take the government to court if it is proven that the property will not be used for the benefit of the public, or the legislature has not authorized such purchase, or the government agency acquiring the property has not undergone the complete and right process.

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