What is Eminent Domain?

Have you ever driven on a highway and noticed a house on a small piece of land located right in between two buildings or unusually close to the highway? You might wonder why on earth someone would choose to live there and why the highway even exists surrounding it. Well, what you’re seeing is likely the result of eminent domain.

Eminent domain refers to the government’s power to take away private land for public use. This right is granted to the government by the Federal Constitution. But, it is not an unlimited power and there are several requirements that must be met before the government may legally take your land. So what exactly is eminent domain and under what circumstances can the government take your property? Continue reading for a brief overview of its process and what eminent domain can mean for your land.

The Process

Whenever the government is planning out a project where it needs land, such as a new highway, it will map out areas of land that it wants/needs to use. It will then work with a team of appraisers to determine the fair value of every piece of that land. Once a valuation has been made, the government will then go to the private landowners who may live there and make an offer to purchase it.

The Requirements

There are several requirements that the government must fulfill in order to exercise its power of eminent domain. Two of the main prerequisites are: 1) “public use” and 2) “just compensation.” In general, the “public use” stipulation means that the government can only take land to use it in a way that will provide some type of benefit to the public. However, this doesn’t mean that the public needs to be able to actually use the land, just that they are given an advantage by the government’s taking of it. A common example of this is the running of sewer or power lines. The “just compensation” requirement refers to payment. In other words, the government is required to offer and pay the fair market value of the land desired.

Your Right to Challenge

If you are a landowner and are worried about what would happen if the government decides to take your property under its eminent domain power, it’s important to remember that you have rights that must be respected. First, the government must provide you with fair notice. Fair notice means that you must have adequate time to review their offer and seek legal advice. The government must also provide the opportunity for a fair hearing. If you do not agree with or do not wish to accept any offer, then you can challenge it in what is called a “condemnation proceeding.”

Condemnation proceedings where a private landowner is challenging a government’s offer using eminent domain are much like regular court hearings. Both sides may have legal representation and are permitted to offer evidence and witness testimony. The court will make a decision that either party is then permitted to appeal. And, just like in a regular case, the appeals process can take years.

Speak with an experienced eminent domain attorney.

The process of eminent domain can be very stressful for the private landowner. Not only is the government trying to take away land you own and maybe even live on, but they are doing it under a right that is granted to them by the Federal Constitution. Jack Sturgill has over 40 years of experience in protecting client’s rights in eminent domain proceedings. If you have received an offer under eminent domain from the government, please don’t hesitate to contact Maryland’s Eminent Domain Lawyer today!

Written by Law Office of Jack R. Sturgill

Jack R. Sturgill, the Owner and CEO of Jack’s Law, has practiced civil litigation for over 40 years. As an experienced litigator and real estate, estate planning, and estate administration law attorney in Maryland, he focuses his practice on legal matters pertaining to real estate, land use, eminent domain and condemnation, business and corporate law, estate planning, estate administration, personal injury, and administrative law.