Although many people see land ownership as a basic human right, the principle of eminent domain actually proves that perspective wrong. Eminent domain is the process that a government is able to use to turn private properties into something that is available for public use. The need to build a school, a government building, or even a road can all allow a government to seize private property.
From 1998 through 2002, more than 10,000 properties in 41 states faced condemnation, or the threat of it, to hand the land to private developers.
This is even happening in New York City. The New York Times wanted a new building, so they approached a real estate developer and together with the state of New York, had an entire block declared as blight. It was determined that the newspaper putting in a new headquarters would eliminate that blight. In other words, the government takes from one private entity and gives to another and calls it “public good” as well. Is this right?
- In 2012, 29 city blocks in Denver, including Victorian houses well over a century old, were declared blighted for having “unusual topography.”
- The town of Longmont, CO authorized eminent domain against a Dillard’s department store in order to build a more upscale mall.
- A $35 million grant from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration was given to the city of Cedar Rapids, IA to seize a hotel to make it become a convention center.
- Although just compensation is required for eminent domain to proceed, it only needs to be at current market values.
- 44 states have passed laws to protect home and property owners since a 2005 ruling from the Supreme Court expanded the definition of eminent domain.
- The first cases of removing unwanted neighborhoods from communities as a “public good” date back to the 1950s.
- In 1999, the city of Merriam, KS condemned a Toyota dealership to sell the land to a BMW dealer instead.
- Billionaire Donald Trump even convinced Atlantic City, NJ to condemn an elderly widow’s home so he could build a limousine parking lot.
The problem with eminent domain is that private businesses are able to influence the process so that they can personally benefit from it. As communities are learning, however, a promise from a business isn’t worth a whole lot. Just ask the city of New London in Massachusetts. Their desire to clear out a neighborhood through eminent domain resulted in the 2005 SCOTUS decision that expanded the legal concepts of it. New London wanted to create an area that was attractive to Pfizer and granted tax breaks to the company to relocate there. When those tax breaks expired, the company left New London. The area was never developed. Now 90 acres of land stands empty and unused. Eminent domain for real public good is debatable enough. For business purposes, there should be no reason why eminent domain can be used.
Appealing An Eminent Domain Decision Rarely Works
- In 2009, 152 notices of appeal were filed in the state of New York because of eminent domain decisions. Only 10 of them ever made it beyond a preliminary inquiry.
- The average amount of time that it takes an appeal to be heard is 7 months.
- 80% of the general population supports reforming the current eminent domain laws that exist if they haven’t been reformed already.
- Part of the issue of eminent domain is that the process is included in the Bill of Rights as the 5th Amendment.
- The victims of eminent domain are most often the elderly, the poor and minorities. This is often because they lack the money and political clout to stop the process.
- Bremerton, WA condemned 22 homes to resell the land to private developers in 1999.
Up until the expansion of eminent domain uses was declared legal, the average household didn’t mind making way for a highway, a school, or some other item that the community needed. Now the average business owner that looks to gain from eminent domain doesn’t even bother to negotiate with existing land owners. They just ask the state to get rid of the current occupants of a site so they can put their own business venture in place. It shouldn’t matter how much money a property owner has. If a business wants to change the land, then let them negotiate a fair price for it. The government shouldn’t be able to take away cheaply, sell for a profit, and kick property owners to the curb.
Is Eminent Domain Even Necessary?
- Without eminent domain, it would become possible for one property owner to prevent projects that truly were in the public good.
- The problem with eminent domain today is that increased property tax values is seen as a public good, but there is no actual tangible benefit provided immediately.
- Eminent domain today can even be extended to the purchase of items that aren’t real estate related, including industry secrets and other intangible goods.
- HUD statistics say one foreclosure costs its local government an average of $19,227, so eminent domain is being considered to take over underwater mortgages today.
If eminent domain is left unchecked, virtually anything could be replaced with anything else. A family making $50k could be displaced from their home for a family making $250k because they’ll generate more sales tax revenues. A Walmart could be taken and a Target put in because it’s considered to be slightly more “upscale.” A regular grocery store could be replaced by a Whole Foods. This is why clear definitions of what “public good” are is necessary. If the court system is going to expand definitions beyond what has generally been accepted, a national definition that is consistently applied is the only way a property owner would be able to guarantee that they will be able to keep the homes and land that they love.