Most homeowners and business principals spanning the vast and diverse Atlanta metro area and surrounding locales likely go through life without paying much – if any – attention to the legal terms “eminent domain” and “condemnation.”
For those who do so, though, their interest is often intensely personal and urgent.
And that is for this pointed reason: A governmental body of some type – an agency, perhaps, or a formal municipal entity – is making a claim to their property. In a legal sense, an effort is being made to “take” a home, business or parcel of land out of private ownership and apply it to a designated public use.
Eminent domain: a complex, sometimes contested process
Imagine that you’re a Georgia property owner suddenly confronting a formal notice from a government actor that it seeks to acquire your property. Its stated attempt to do so comes with a price offer alleged to be fair.
How would you feel about that? Some owners in fact accept that offer.
Of course, others don’t. Maybe a targeted piece of property is your home, the valued and cherished abode of your family for generations. Perhaps your business – an entrenched community fixture – is the object of a proposed taking.
Public entities and private citizen aren’t always of like mind where eminent taking is concerned. In fact, some targeted property owners consider applied government muscle as akin to an unlawful seizure, and seek resolutely to contest any title change.
Notable points re government power in eminent domain cases
The government’s exercise of eminent domain powers is explicitly noted and sanctioned in the U.S. Constitution. It links with these key points and limits:
- Applicability only in cases involving private property
- Must be for a bona-fide public use (e.g., roadway replacing a tract of houses)
- A fair price must be offered (just compensation)
- Public hearing mandate
As noted above, targeted property owners might be at odds with the government concerning a proposed taking.
That doesn’t leave them powerless.
The condemnation process: when an agreement can’t be reached
One established Georgia legal source on contested property issues stresses that “there is recourse available” to an aggrieved property owner in an eminent domain matter. It duly notes that, “If the two sides cannot agree, this type of real estate dispute heads to condemnation proceedings.”
Experienced real estate legal counsel with proven advocacy in eminent domain/condemnation cases can promote a property owner’s rights and interests in a formal condemnation action. Diligent representation can spotlight and contest a number of issues, ranging from the legality of a proposed taking itself to the compensation being offered for a property.
The government indeed has power to act when it seeks to take private property for an alleged public use. It is centrally important to note, though, that its prerogatives are limited and subject to legal challenge.