Eminent domain in California: What you need to know
Eminent domain is a complicated legal concept that provokes many questions from property owners.We thought we would take some time in this blog to discuss the most basic questions people have when they have been approached by a local government entity about the required sale of their property.
What is eminent domain?
The government has the power to buy private property (i.e. a home) if it is determined they will use the land for “public use” and that they justly compensate the owner of said property. This act is called eminent domain. Commonly, we call this process condemnation.
How are “public use” and “just compensation” determined?
The government cannot just take property whenever they please. Instead, they need to prove that the land is necessary and benefits the general public. Some examples that justify “public use” include:
- Transportation venture: a highway, bridge, railroad or road
- Government building: post office, courthouse, city hall, or fire station
- Private facilities that serve the public: hospitals, colleges/ universities
- Significant areas: national park, public park, an expansion of an existing park
The government cannot take private land without paying for it, which is where the second rule comes into play. The law requires the buyer to offer fair market value for the property that they want to purchase. Often, they will send their own appraiser, but you may hire an appraiser of your own if you see fit.
Do I have to take the offer?
Unless you agree on the price that they offer to buy your home for, they cannot use the land. If you and condemner cannot come to an agreement, they will likely file a claim for eminent domain in court. You will go before a judge and proceed from there.