How Eminent Domain Works


Eminent Domain Abuses
The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles once hosted Hollywood's elite in the '50s, was home to eight Academy Awards shows and was the site of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The landmark hotel was razed under eminent domain laws in 2006. LPL

The definition of "public use" has sometimes been stretched to the point that any project that could potentially generate more tax revenue may be considered. The Supreme Court ruled for the government in the landmark case Kelo v. New London in 2005 [source: Oyez.org]. In the case, the city of New London, Connecticut had many homes and businesses razed to build an office complex.

The 5-4 ruling gave new power to local governments to build whatever they deemed a benefit to the community, including shopping malls, hotels, condos and health clubs. It was a victory for wealthy developers and a defeat for homeowners. Eight state supreme courts and 43 states have reacted to the decision by passing measures that more clearly define or restrict what is considered public use [source: Institute for Justice].

Lakewood, Ohio, residents fought back when their government attempted to take their homes in order to build expensive riverfront condominiums. The mayor of Lakewood had argued that the community couldn't survive without a strengthened tax base. The government determined that any home that didn't have three bedrooms, two baths, central air conditioning and an attached two-car garage was to be considered "blighted."

Fifty-five homes, four apartment buildings and 12 businesses were threatened with demolition. Locals were outraged. The television news show "60 Minutes" investigated and found out that even the mayor's home was considered "blighted." The town rejected the development by unanimous vote and was successful in voting the mayor out of office [source: CBS News].

A business owner in Mesa, Arizona also fought back and won his eminent domain case. The owner of a brakes and repair shop was being muscled out of the business his father started by a local politician looking to get an Ace Hardware in its place. The hardware store was only a few blocks away, but there was more land for expansion where the brakes shop operated. Instead of negotiating, the hardware store owner asked the City of Mesa to take the property and sell it to him. The brakes shop owner held his ground and the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in his favor [source: CBS News].

One case that was not successful was in New York City, just a few blocks from Times Square. A corner building was taken under eminent domain for the purpose of erecting a new headquarters for The New York Times. The state of New York declared the block "blighted" and ruled in favor of the newspaper giant. The owner was forced to give up the building his family had owned for more than 100 years [source: CBS News].

If a government official comes to your door talking eminent domain, it's important that you know your rights as a homeowner. Groups like the Castle Coalition help educate homeowners about eminent domain abuse.

Last editorial update on Mar 7, 2019 04:47:57 pm.

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Sources

  • Associated Press. "Homes may be 'taken' for private projects." NBC News, June 23, 2005. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8331097/ns/us_news/t/homes-may-be-taken-private-projects/#.XGycv-hKjb0
  • CBS News "Eminent Domain: Being Abused?" 60 Minutes. CBS News, July 4, 2004.
  • The Bill of Rights Institute. "The Bill of Rights." U.S. Constitution. https://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/
  • National Conference of State Legislatures. "Eminent Domain." 2007. http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/eminent-domain-overview.aspx
  • Larson, Aaron. "Eminent Domain." expertlaw.com, 2007. http://www.expertlaw.com/library/real_estate/eminent_domain.htm