The mere existence of eminent domain laws is enough to make most people wary. The knowledge that a federal, state or local government entity could swoop in and “take” private property is certainly unsettling. While most people are aware that the land on which a private home or a business is located could potentially be claimed by the government for public use, most people do not know that other types of property may also be vulnerable. Eminent domain property to be taken actually covers a relatively broad range of both tangible and intangible items.
Government agencies most frequently seek land in eminent domain proceedings. Typically, they need the land in order to build new facilities or public works that will be of benefit to the population at large. Examples of such projects might include:
-New or expanded roadways and intersections
-Construction of a new water treatment plant
-Expansion of utility lines and services
Note that all of these uses appear to be justified as far as being in the best interests of the public. However, in a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision, the justices ruled that the City of New London was within its rights when it took Susette Kelo’s land to make way for a new residential development. Kelo argued that giving her land to a private development company did not constitute “public use,” but the court disagreed, arguing that the economic stimulus provided by the new construction would be of benefit to the entire community. This high-profile case is why an increasing number of people are aware of eminent domain property to be taken, and why property owners are increasingly on guard when the government raises this subject.
Government agencies do not restrict their eminent domain actions to vacant plots of land. They may also lay claim to real estate like houses, office buildings or even a company’s corporate headquarters. Usually, they seek to demolish the real estate so that they can build whatever structures are necessary for the stated public purpose. However, it is not unheard of for the existing structures to be occupied for the use of the public.
Most people are well aware that eminent domain property to be taken includes real estate and land. Fewer know that the government has the right to take virtually anything else as well. This can range from a company’s inventory of products to a private citizen’s vehicle. Other, intangible items may be obtained through eminent domain as well. More than one government entity has acquired a company’s registered trademark or a trade secret in the name of the public good. Some inventors have seen their innovations taken from them in an eminent domain action when the government asserts that the invention will be used for the public good. In short, any tangible or intangible item may be seized by the government if they can justify that taking it is for the benefit of the public.
Of course, no property of any description may be taken by the government without providing just compensation to the owner. The problem is that it is generally not easy to determine exactly what constitutes “just” compensation. That is especially true when it comes to intangible items like a company’s registered trademark. How is it possible to place a dollar value on something that is not actually sold in the marketplace?
When an owner of any type of property receives a “Notice of Intent” from a government entity, it is essential that they immediately seek the advice of knowledgeable real estate and legal experts who can help them interpret the notice and formulate an appropriate response. It is rarely advisable for people to attempt to negotiate with the government agency on their own. This is because the government will have various professionals helping them to establish a claim to the property. They likely have sufficient depth of resources to easily overpower the average individual or company. Accordingly, the only sensible thing to do is to hire experts who have the right kind of knowledge and experience.
Placing a value on property that could range from a new invention to a parcel of farmland is no easy task. The government will ask its own experts to weigh in with opinions about what constitutes just compensation. It is only fair that the owner of the private property obtain opinions from other experts to be certain that the compensation they receive is just.
Similarly, negotiating with government representatives is loaded with pitfalls for the average citizen. The private owner will find themselves up against experienced personnel who engage in high-stakes negotiations for a living. It is far better for the private property owner to hire an expert of their own who can negotiate on their behalf.