Eminent Domain Legal Meaning and Definition

Here is a simplified definition of the legal term Eminent Domain.

Eminent Domain (noun):

This is a power possessed by government entities such as federal, state, local governments, school districts, hospital districts, and other agencies that allows them to acquire private property for public use. This can be done with or without the permission of the property owner.

According to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S Constitution, private property can’t be taken for public use without just compensation. This rule also applies to state and local governments due to the Fourteenth Amendment.

Typically, the process involves the agency passing a resolution declaring the need for the property (condemnation), performing an appraisal, making an offer, and then negotiating. If the owner does not agree with the offered compensation, they can sue the government for a court to determine the appropriate compensation. However, during the trial, the government becomes the owner if the offered amount is deposited in a trust account.

Examples of public use include the building of schools, parks, streets, highways, airports, dams, reservoirs, public housing, hospitals, and public buildings.