Eminent domain in CA: A primer

There are instances when the government can take private property for its own use. Lawmakers have enacted strict rules to reduce the risk that the government abuses this power.

What types of rules help protect landowners?

California state law allow for the use of eminent domain powers to acquire property “only for a public use.” In most cases, state law requires the individual authorized to exercise this power establish the following elements to move forward with an attempted possession of the property:

  • The government requires use of the property for public interest and necessity.
  • The agency’s proposal is in the greatest public good and causes the least private injury.
  • The property in question is necessary for the project.

Examples of authorized figures that may move forward with eminent domain include the California Department of Transportation as well as local transportation authorities.

How does the eminent domain process work?

If the government decides it must use a landowner’s private property, it will generally use appraisers to determine the value of the land it seeks to use. Once an estimate is prepared, the agency will offer to compensation for taking the property. If the landowner wants to keep the property or believes the offer is too low, the matter will likely move forward to a condemnation proceeding. During this proceeding, the landowner can use the legal system to fight back against the government’s attempt to take their property.

Is there anything else about eminent domain that landowners should know?

Although the above provides a broad overview of the basics, it is important to know that eminent domain is a complex process. In addition to the basics of eminent domain, those who find themselves needing to know more about this issue should also be familiar with inverse condemnation and taking. In an action for illegal taking, a landowner may argue the government illegally took property or substantially deprived them of their enjoyment of their property without just compensation. If successful, this claim can result in financial compensation.

Inverse condemnation refers to the ability of a landowner to sue the government for just compensation if government actions have led to a decrease or negative impact on their property. This is available when the government has not used eminent domain powers to take the property. Examples can include freeway noise that decreases the value of neighboring homes. These cases often move forward using different rules compared to eminent domain cases.

This piece provides some basic information while also pointing out the complexity of eminent domain cases. As such, landowners who feel they are deprived the value or enjoyment of their property due to government actions are wise to seek counsel from those experienced in this niche area of the law.