Eminent Domain

If you say it fast enough, it would sound like you are saying "imminent doom". Although it is not that scary, it is not that far off either.

Eminent domain is the inherent power of the state to seize a citizen’s private property, expropriate property, or a citizen’s rights in property. Which is what makes it scary.

It is not all bad, as you do get monetary compensation. The property is taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties who will devote it to public or civic use, or, in some cases, economic development.

The most common uses of property taken by eminent domain are for public utilities, highways, and railroads. Some jurisdictions require that the government body offer to purchase the property before resorting to the use of eminent domain.

The term condemnation is used to describe the formal act of the exercise of the power of eminent domain to transfer title of the property from its private owner to the government. It does not have to be ownership of the entire property; it can also be for a smaller interest in it, such as an easement. In most cases, the only thing that remains to be decided when a condemnation action is filed is the amount of just compensation to be paid. (Note: that is a common question on real estate exams.)

Do not confuse this with a property being "condemned". That is when a building has become so dilapidated as to be legally unfit for human habitation due to its physical defects. This type of condemnation of buildings on health and safety grounds or gross zoning violation does not usually deprive the owners of the title to the property, but requires them to rectify the offending situation or have the government do it at the owner's expense.

Inverse condemnation is a term used in the law to describe a situation in which the government takes private property but fails to pay just compensation. In order to be compensated, the owner must then sue the government. That’s right, inverse condemnation is essentially suing the government. An example would be if the city widens a boulevard, thereby taking the entire parking lot of a market. The city offers to pay for the lot, but the market claims it has lost all its business since no one can park, and now it wants the value of the entire parcel, including the value of the building. In this situation, they would file for inverse condemnation.