Eminent Domain Action

In an ordinary eminent domain action, the government is required to provide the owner of the private property with “just compensation” for their loss and any damages that they incur. However, there are a limited number of circumstances in which the obligation to pay citizens for property is waived. If you have been asking the question, “Can the government seize my property without paying me?” then it is essential to learn more about this subject.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants the government the right to seize property if it will be used for the benefit of the public. In other words, it is legal for federal, state and local authorities to take private property if the land will then be used for a project like a park or a new road that will benefit the majority of the area’s population. Ordinarily, the government is required to provide “just compensation” to the property owner as remuneration for the loss of their land and any structures.

This does not mean that the government always has to pay landowners for seizing their property. Fortunately, the government may only avoid offering compensation in an extremely limited number of ways.

One of these situations involves abandoned or vacant properties. Numerous circumstances may motivate a home or business owner to abandon a property that they own. In fact, this problem has become increasingly common within the last several years of economic uncertainty. Large urban areas, like the one in Detroit, which were once thriving with commerce, industry and housing are now largely vacated. This abandonment of huge portions of real estate is related to excessive liens, predatory lending practices, job loss or problems of legal or environmental liability.

A lengthy period of abandonment or vacancy can be resolved using a couple of methods. The first is to simply wait until market conditions improve, at which time the original owner may inhabit the property and pay any associated liens or debts. The other is for a third party, such as the government, to intervene. In many of these cases, the government is not required to inform the owner of their intent to take the property, nor do they have to provide any kind of compensation. Laws and regulations relating to this kind of eminent domain action vary widely from one jurisdiction to the next, making it necessary for property owners to consult with legal counsel when confronted with this issue. The government may be required to take several steps to acquire the property, such as:

-Attempting to locate the owner
-Finding documentation that indicates the owner has no intent to return
-Contacting the bank that holds a mortgage or other financial interest in the property
-Taking hostile possession of the property
-Paying back taxes and other debts

It also may be possible for the government to seize property without providing compensation when they can prove to a court that the property was being used for illegal purposes. In other words, if the property was being used to manufacture illegal drugs, then it may be subject to government seizure. This scenario does not require the government to provide any compensation to the owner of the private property.

The burden is on the government to prove via a “preponderance of the evidence” that a property was being used for criminal activity. Accordingly, lawyers for the government must demonstrate to a judge or jury convincing evidence that a property was being used for illegal endeavors. In other words, several witnesses that provide vague or hazy testimony may not be as convincing as a single witness who is exceptionally precise and provides solid, demonstrable testimony. The judge or jury may find that the property was being used for illegal purposes based on the testimony of that sole witness, which means that it can be seized without any compensation to the owner.

This may be the case even when the owner was not occupying the property and was not involved in the criminal activity. Depending upon the jurisdiction in which the case occurs, a landlord may be subject to losing his property based on the illegal actions of his tenants.

It is crucial to note that the government is not permitted to quickly and easily seize private property without providing compensation. Most jurisdictions have various laws and regulations in place that protect the ability of private citizens to own property. Accordingly, the process through which governments seize property tends to be convoluted and require excessive amounts of time. This may provide the owner with more time to address the question, “Can the government seize my property without paying me?” with attorneys and real estate professionals.