Eminent Domain Law and Legal Definition

Eminent domain is the government's right to acquire private property for public use. The governmental entity may be a federal, state, county or city government, school district, hospital district or other agencies. A public entity, rather than a private party, may pursue eminent domain, and it must be for a public, rather than a private use. The taking of property may be with or without the permission of the owner. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that "private property [may not] be taken for public use without just compensation." The Fourteenth Amendment added the requirement of just compensation to state and local government takings.

In a 2005 Supreme Court case, the court ruled that local governments have the authority to seize private land and turn the property over to private developers for economic development. Although eminent domain has traditionally been used to advance public works, this ruling allows local officials to use their eminent domain power to condemn homes in a working-class neighborhood for private development in hopes of boosting tax revenue and improving the local economy.

The eminent domain process usually involves passage of a resolution by the acquiring agency to take the property (condemnation), including a declaration of public need, followed by an appraisal, an offer, and then negotiation. The owner who believes that just compensation is not being offered for the taking of their property may bring suit against the governmental agency. However, by depositing the amount of the offer in a trust account, the government becomes owner while a trial is pending. Some of the public uses supporting eminent domain include schools, streets and highways, parks, airports, dams, reservoirs, redevelopment, public housing, hospitals and public buildings.