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Eminent domain has been around for decades

Eminent domain has been considered a right of governments in the United States for decades -- even centuries. One writer in 1879 noted that it doesn't require constitutional recognition and that any government -- from federal to local -- might be able to use it to seize land under certain circumstances. Eminent domain is restricted somewhat by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, though.

The Fifth Amendment says that your property can't be taken by a government for public use without that government providing just compensation. Usually, just compensation is defined as fair market value for the property in question, though obviously "fair market value" can be subjective.

Historically, eminent domain was used to facilitate the building of infrastructure and public works projects. Projects that warranted eminent domain included things such as building roadways and other transportation infrastructure, ensuring an appropriate supply of water to cities and building or preparing for defense efforts. Properties were also taken under eminent domain so that public buildings -- such as those that house government offices, schools or libraries -- could be built.

Another common use of eminent domain through the decades is in conservation efforts. Properties might be condemned under eminent domain to ensure land is conserved for natural parks.

The owner of a property being sought via eminent domain is not without options if he or she doesn't want to give up the property, but fighting governments can be difficult. Working with governments as a private business to acquire land in this way for building or development can also be difficult. A construction law professional can help you understand your options and best next steps, no matter which side of the transaction you are on.

Source: The United States Department of Justice, "History of the Federal Use of Eminent Domain," accessed Oct. 28, 2016

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