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Eminent Domain: Are you a Target?

You could be a government target and not even know it.  Not for a drone strike, an investigation, or for anything you’ve done or may do in the future – you may be a target because you own property in the way of a government project.  Chances are that the roads you drive on, the power lines you see, the stadium you cheer in, and the school where you drop your kids off all sit on what used to be someone else’s private property. 

Every day, engineers, planners and government officials make decisions as to how to use private property for a public purpose using the power of eminent domain.  Many times these initial decisions are made with little or no input from the owners themselves.  For the government, eminent domain is a power that is essential to accomplishing its public purposes.  For a property owner or a business owner, eminent domain can be a scary and overwhelming process. 

The right to own private property is a fundamental right that the founders of our country clearly set forth in the United States Constitution.  However, private property is subject to being taken for a public use through the government’s use of eminent domain.  Eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property for a public use without an owner’s consent.  The very idea of it seems harsh and antithetical to the American ideals of Life, Liberty and Property.  The Florida Constitution guarantees that owners who face eminent domain will receive full compensation for the taking of their property, but that is not always comforting to an owner who doesn’t want to give up their property in the first place.

The good news is that Florida law is not blind to the realities of eminent domain.  The bad news is that a property owner’s options to stop the process are limited. 

First, the good news.  Business or property owners facing eminent domain are entitled to two things.  First, they are entitled to be placed on equal footing with the government throughout the process.  This means that owners are entitled to the best legal representation along with appraisers, engineers and accountants with the ability to recover the fees for these services from the government.  Second, business and property owners are entitled to be made whole as part of the process.  This includes payment for any land being taken along with damages in the form of lost value to any remaining property after the taking. 

Now, the bad news.  If the taking is truly for a public purpose, then the government will likely be able to legally take private property against an owner’s will.  The government exercises its power of eminent domain by filing a lawsuit against the owner of private property and then takes title to the property by judicial order.  The owner is then left to make a claim of full compensation against the government.  If no agreement can be reached, then the amount of full compensation is left to a twelve person jury.  As with any government process, eminent domain can also be subject to abuse and over-reaching.  All of these facts make it critical for owners to be fully apprised of the law and their rights in any eminent domain situation. 

So how do you know if you and your property might be a target?  The easy answer is to take a look around.  For the past decade, growth has driven Florida’s economy.  Every new rooftop creates a need for more roads, schools, powerlines and other government functions.  Many businesses seek to take full advantage of the growth, and this often means finding strategic locations that maximize the amount of traffic that passes their front door.  The very same traffic that spurs economic development can create the need for new or wider roads.  When you look around, do you see congestion?  Have new developments created the need for a new school?  These situations can lead to you being the target of eminent domain.  


To read more on Eminent Domain and how it may impact you follow the link below to the Coalition for Property Rights (CPR) Florida.


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