What is Eminent Domain?

Eminent domain goes by many names, including "land condemnation," "condemnation," or "government taking." Whatever name it goes by, eminent domain is the right of the federal, state, or local government (or a party authorized by the government) to claim private property for public use, so long as the government pays the landowner a fair amount for the property. You may hear this payment described as "just compensation." This payment is supposed to be based on the property's fair market value.

Why would the government want to take private property? There are a variety of reasons, including:

  • Highway construction
  • Widening of existing roads
  • Construction of a building to provide public services, such as a police station or school
  • Installation of power lines or sewers
  • Expansion of an airport
  • Building light rails
  • Creation of a park
  • A utility or sewer easement
  • A gas pipeline

Requirements for Exercise of Eminent Domain

In addition to taking land, eminent domain can allow the government to take air or water rights. There are two requirements for the government to be able to exercise its power or eminent domain: the taking must be for a "public use," and it must be "necessary."

Over the years, American courts have defined "public use" very broadly, so that it can mean anything that is in the public's interest or for public welfare. "Necessary" means that the taking of property is the only way for the government to achieve this public interest, and that only as much property as is needed to achieve that goal may be taken.

Learn more about eminent domain laws in North Carolina.

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