Eminent Domain

Eminent domain is the power of government to take private property and use it for public purposes. The power of eminent domain is recognized in the United States Constitution, which prohibits the taking of private property “without just compensation.” The federal constitutional provision recognizing the power of eminent domain implies the requirement that property be taken for a “public use.”” Public use includes the traditional government activities of building roads, government and public facilities such as government buildings and parks, as well as more generally beneficial activities assured through protection of scenic areas, wetlands, and historic landmarks.

If the government zones a piece of property such that the property owner can no longer effectively use the parcel of land, this provision may be applicable. The property owner may be able to sue for compensation because the land has been “taken” by the government. This is commonly referred to as “a taking.” Just compensation is difficult to determine. By definition, it is the fair market value that a property owner would receive if the property were being sold without the zoning restrictions in place. If the government and the property owner are unable to agree on the fair market value, the property owner can file suit and hire a certified appraiser to give testimony concerning the value.


Inside Eminent Domain