Eminent domain, despite being a legal tactic used by the government, is still something that often feels a bit out of place in the United States. There is such a focus in Florida and all over the country on the idea of personal freedom, personal ownership and personal rights. Eminent domain seems to fly in the face of these American ideals.
If you’re worried about the government swooping in to take your property, there are a few things you should know. Make sure you really understand eminent domain laws and all they entail.
A taking, not a seizure
First off, there is a difference between eminent domain and a property seizure that relates to criminal activity. For instance, the police may be able to seize a car purchased with drug money during a drug bust. When the government uses eminent domain, it qualifies as a legal “taking” instead. No criminal activity is involved. This can be a complete taking, a partial taking or a temporary taking.
For most homeowners in your situation, the biggest question is compensation. Rest assured that the law requires just compensation. This is right in the Fifth Amendment. The government may take your property, but they will pay you for it.
Of course, you may not like what they deem to be just compensation. Maybe you think it’s worth more. Maybe you think the property values will keep climbing, so you wanted to keep the property and sell it in five years; even just compensation today is still less than you would have earned.
This process is not without questions. But you should get a payment in exchange for the needed property.
They may ask you before going to court
The process differs depending on the case, but it generally works like this: The government decides what land they need for a public work or a project that qualifies for eminent domain. They then approach any landowners and ask to buy the land from them. A lot of people sell outright, happy with the price. Some do not. Then the government uses eminent domain to force the sale of the remaining land.
Either way, the sale happens. The difference is just if they need to go to court or not. That’s not to say that you absolutely want to avoid court. You may find ways to fight for a fair payment if you do not think they offered you one. But you need to know that the first step is typically not heading right to court to decide things. It begins earlier than that, and that’s when you can start weighing your options.
Remember, no matter where you are in this process, you must fully understand all of your legal rights.