How the Government Can Take Your Home Legally

Thomas Smith
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Most people who own a house or land assume that once they’ve purchased the property, it can never be taken away from them without their consent.

That’s not entirely true, though. Through a process called eminent domain, governments in the United States can legally take your house or property from you, even if you’ve paid all your bills and haven’t violated any laws.

How Eminent Domain Works

Eminent domain comes from the Constitution itself. The fifth amendment says that the government can’t take away private property for public use unless they provide compensation.

That means that the government can’t swoop in and take your house or property for no reason. But if they have a compelling public reason to take your land, and they offer you reasonable compensation for its value, they can take your home or other property and use it for public purposes.

For example, if the Federal government is building a new highway and your house stands in the way, the government can pay you its fair market value, seize it, and bulldoze it to make way for the highway.

While landowners can challenge eminent domain decisions, they can’t stop these decisions if the government follows the necessary steps. Even if you don’t want to sell your house to make room for a highway, the government can force you to do so.

Seizing Houses With Eminent Domain

Many people have had their houses seized by state governments or the Federal government under eminent domain. Sometimes, this can be done in an allegedly abusive way.

In the early 2000s, for example, a developer in Hurst, Texas wanted to expand a mall. The city used eminent domain to remove 127 homeowners from their homes so construction could proceed. Many other instances of eminent domain have occurred in the United States over the last century.

It sounds bizarre, but eminent domain does indeed allow governments to claim private land, including homes.

Landowners Can Fight Back

Landowners who are informed about an eminent domain decision have a variety of resources available to fight back legally and try to avoid having their property seized.

Especially when landowners join forces or can point to examples of discrimination, they have sometimes been able to challenge eminent domain rulings successfully.

Because of the potential for private landowners to lose their house or other property, it’s essential for all property owners to understand eminent domain and to know that it exists.

Most people assume that private land is secure, and that no one can take away your home or property. As eminent domain shows, though, that’s not always the case.

Note: I am a researcher and journalist, not an attorney. This article is not intended to provide legal advice. Always consult a qualified attorney for assistance with any legal issue.

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Award-winning entrepreneur, and the co-founder and CEO of Gado Images. Thomas writes, speaks and consults about artificial intelligence, privacy, food, photography, tech, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As a professional photographer, Thomas' photographic work regularly appears in publications worldwide. Pitches/news tips:

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