eminent domain

Eminent Domain. Many of you will be familiar with this legal term. For those who are not, eminent domain is the legal way that the government can confiscate private property from individuals. Typically this is done to aquire property for the common good--to build roads on, airports, public buildings et cetera.

Of course if it's your house or land that's been confiscated by the government you're going to be upset but if it's for the public good at least there's some sense of justice, albeit cold and distant. However recently there's been a twist applied to this practice of eminent domain. In June 2005 there was a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Kelo v. The City of New London, Conn that changed the way that communities could enforce eminent domain.

According to the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling the government can seize private property from individuals to boost a community’s economic development which means that seized property can be handed over to private developers. They then can make millions selling the property while the original owners have to be satisfied with whatever settlement the developers decide to give them. In some cases, nothing at all. Just an eviction notice--from what was recently their own property. 100% paid for.
This practice makes use of 1954 law in which the phrase "public use" was expanded to include "urban blight". It was a well intentioned change in the law and oriented towards tearing down tenements and slums to enable new residential and commercial development. Unfortunately this created a legal loophole that has been abused occasionally for years, but recently the abuse has gone from a trickle to a torrent.

This has been a result of a reinterpretation of what "urban blight" means. As I mentioned above, it used to mean slums. Now it can be used to mean any land, with or without improvements (houses, for example), that can be used to a greater amount of community good. That might sound like double talk so here's a general rule of thumb: greater good means more taxes. A homeowner might pay $1,000 a year in real estate taxes, in aggregate that street of houses will be paying $30,000. Putting a shopping center in the same place could generate that much in taxes in a week. Easy decision for a politician, no?

That's exactly what happened in Kelo v. The City of New London, Conn. This sort of situation has been profiled on the CBS show 60 Minutes a number of times--it's not that uncommon--and it can happen to you. Scary stuff.

Comments

Oh My Lord! It better not happen to me...
Years and years ago, not that far from near The Hollywood Bowl, they were going to build a Museum of Hollywood, so they said...they took away houses from many people--not sure if that fellunderr the law you are talking about, cause this was probably 40 or more years ago...this one man refused to leave his home and this went on for days and days...they warned him they wwre going to start the Bulldozer, etc. Somehow or other the police came; they got him out of the house, I think with smoke bombs, and they put him in jail! He was tried and convicted and put in prison for about 10 years. P.S. They NEVER built that Museum. He finally got out of jail and THEY DID NOTHING to compensate him for his home and the time he spent in jail.
Lovely, huh?
Mike said…
I had heard of this before. It makes you think about what "Big Brother" will do next.

Michele sent me here this time.
Seraphim said…
Woah. Certainly makes you think.
No_Newz said…
Eminent domain is a popular sport around these parts. Not enough taxes come from farmers. After Union Pacific came in it was like open season on farmland. But hey, we can get our food from China, right? :P
Happy weekend!
Lois Lane
Pearl said…
I have the understanding that anything you own is only temporary and seen the public reclaiming of private land for roads or sidewalks but just to redevelop. Yech.
Kelley said…
GOD!! I always knew the gov't could LOWBALL you and take your house for a freeway project, but to outright allow someone to steal it for NOTHING???????

CALL YOUR CONGRESSMEN!!!! MAKE IT MANDATORY THAT ANY PROPERTY SEIZED FOR IMPROVEMENTS MUST BE GIVEN FAIR MARKET VALUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Otherwise, what's to stop them from just walking up and taking what they want? Nothing!
Grins said…
I hate this law by the way. It hasn't hit my personal pocketbook before but it has for a friend. Their property was taken for far less than market value. Totally sucks.
web_loafer said…
The Eminent domain problem, and the illegal immigration problem seem to have a common thread. This is the common thought......by those that are going to benifit from the problems, if WE, THE USofA, LOSE.

"You're going down, honkey, we will take what you have and you will serve us."

I make no apoligies for seeing the truth, I am hated because I succeed, just like my wonderful nation is hated because it succeeds.

It is time for the successful to stand up and say.....'Back off...or...'

As usual, I enjoy your postings.

Keep on keepin' on.
AverageMom said…
Hey, Utenzi. Thanks for dropping by earlier. Happy Weekend!
I hate to see Eminent Domain used to take property from the people to give it to businesses. I would much rather see it used to take property from businesses and give it to the people. Corporations get tax breaks to build plants in communities and then downsize or send their jobs to other countries when times are rough. They go bankrupt and don't pay taxes. At this point, ALL of the company's property should become the property of the people of the community. Of course, IMHO, these companies should already be the property of the people.
Michelle said…
Your legislators need to take a leaf out of Australia's book. Whilst we have a similar law, we also have one that protects those from receiving nothing or a pissy little amount from developers.
kenju said…
Scary indeed, and something that ought not to be allowed!
Claire said…
I can't believe that!! I'm fairly sure (will have to check now!) that we have nothing like this and thank God for that!
Yes, eminent domain was used to take away my great-grandmother's house so that they could put a freeway through the property.. This was in the 70's. My grandfather took them to court because they were offering only 5,000 dollars for the property. He lost. My great-grandmother lost her property and home. The money barely paid for living expenses for the next ten years... she lived with my grandpa after that... talk about injustice. AND, she had the property for about 50 years.

I have been against this practice ever since.
Oh... and about illegal immigration. There was a news report in Nevada a few months ago where illegal immigrants were given a higher credit rating than Americans... AND consequently more illegals can own their own homes... whereas those of us who have paid the taxes and lived in the US all our lives... cannot buy homes and have lower credit ratings.

Stinks huh?
Marie said…
If our airport ever needs to expand (not likely) they could take my entire street! Somehow my house has managed to stand for nearly 80 years, so I'm hoping I'm safe. Of course you never know!

Michele sent me.... Happy Sunday eve!
Carmi said…
Funny that Marie should mention the airport. When I was a kid, the federal government expropriated thousands of acres of land to build a huge new airport in Mirabel, just north of Montreal.

Entire communities were uprooted, despite their vehement protests against the project.

Mirabel was supposed to be the airport of the future, a gateway to the city of tomorrow. They promised a high speed rail link and a superhighway to connect the facility to the city.

Well, the province ended up dying from the whole separatist adventure. Montreal lost its business community. The highway and railway were never built. The airport foundered and was shuttered a couple of years back.

The farmers have never received so much as an apology.

Sometimes, government just sucks.
Aimee "Roo" said…
I linked to this from my blog because you did such an awesome job explaining it. Seriously not enough people even know that this can happen to them.

Have you heard any ruling yet in the case to take away the supreme court judge's house under this very law? I hope they guy wins and proves his point by hitting the judge where it hurts.

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