In recent years, the power of the government to take land under eminent domain has been under fire. The definition of "public use" has been stretched to the point that any project that could potentially generate more tax revenue is a consideration. The Supreme Court ruled favorably on the side of the government in the landmark case Kelo v. New London in 2005 [source: MSNBC]. In this case, the city of New London, Conn., had many homes and businesses razed to build an office complex. The 5-4 ruling gave new power to local governments that saw fit to tear down homes or businesses to build whatever they deemed a benefit the community -- including shopping malls, hotels, condos or health clubs. It was a victory for wealthy developers and a defeat for homeowners. Thirty-four states reacted to the decision by passing measures that more clearly defined or restricted what was considered public use [source: NCSL].
Lakewood, Ohio, residents fought back when their government attempted to take their homes in order to build expensive riverfront condominiums. The mayor of Lakewood argued that the community couldn't survive without a strengthened tax base. Fifty-five homes, four apartment buildings and 12 businesses were threatened with demolition after they were deemed "blighted." The government determined that any home that didn't have three bedrooms, two baths, central air conditioning and an attached two-car garage fell under this definition. Locals were outraged that their homes were referred to in these terms. The television news show "60 Minutes"investigated and found out that even the mayor's home didn't fit this requirement. The town rejected the development by unanimous vote and was also successful in voting the mayor out of office [source: CBS News].
One business owner in Mesa, Ariz., also fought back and won his eminent domain case. The owner of a brake 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 car shop operated. Instead of going to the auto shop to negotiate, the hardware store owner went straight to the City of Mesa to ask them to take the property and sell it to him. The brake 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 and Natural-Rights help to educate homeowners and fight eminent domain abuse.
To learn more about eminent domain, please look into the links on the following page.
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More Great Links
- Associated Press. "Home may be taken for private projects." MSNBC, June 23, 2005. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8331097/
- "The Bill of Rights." U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights Institute. http://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/Instructional/Resources/ FoundingDocuments/Docs/TheBillofRights.htm
- "Eminent Domain." National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 2007. http://www.ncsl.org/programs/natres/EMINDOMAIN.htm"Eminent Domain History" PBS, June 24, 2005. http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/domain.html
- "Eminent Domain: Being Abused?" 60 Minutes. CBS News, July 4, 2004. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/26/60minutes/main575343.shtml
- Larson, Aaron. "Eminent Domain." expertlaw.com, 2007. http://www.expertlaw.com/library/real_estate/eminent_domain.html