In California, Can the Government Take My Property for a Public Project?

John S. Peterson

Answered by:
John S. Peterson

Located in Los Angeles, CA
Peterson Law Group

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Eminent domain is a process by which the state or federal government can attempt to seize control of part or all of a landowner’s property for the purpose of a public-use project. While the government has the legal authority to take this action, it cannot do so without providing both a fair process and offering a fair market value price for landowners. These cases can and often do go before a judge to ultimately decide, when landowners and the people responsible for the government’s project are not able to come to a mutual agreement.

What Is Eminent Domain?

Eminent domain is a process by which the government can compel a private landowner to sell their property for a public use project for a fair market value. For example, if private property is in the path of a new highway or bridge, the government may use eminent domain to force those landowners to turn over the needed property, but they can’t do so without following a process.

In California, the laws and processes surrounding eminent domain look very much like they do in any other state. However, because many parts of California are densely populated and there is no shortage of needs for new or expanded roads, bridges or services, eminent domain comes up more often than it might in other states.

Once a project has been announced, there is usually a period where the government appraises the value of the property it is considering either seizing or condemning. These appraisals are supposed to be conducted by neutral third parties to ensure a fair offer can be made. Also during this time, the government may gather public feedback for its proposal. Assuming the project moves forward, the government provides its offers to owners suggested by the appraisers, followed by either a period of negotiation or litigation by the landowners to prevent the project from moving forward.

It’s important to understand that while eminent domain is a powerful tool government agencies can use, you may be able to fight to keep your property by working with a skilled attorney with experience in this type of law.

What Is Fair Market Value?

The offers made by the government to purchase land should be based on the independent appraiser’s suggested fair market value. There are many things that can influence the fair market value, including:

  • Location
  • Age of the property
  • Condition of the property
  • Environmental issues
  • Value of other property in the area
  • How much it would cost to reproduce any structures
  • Rental income

The expectation is that this fair market value must be realistic and fair to the landowner. In other words, the fair market value rule is intended to ensure that the government cannot attempt to shortchange home or property owners out of their land.

In addition, the property owner is not obliged to accept the government’s first offer, and if there is no agreement between representatives of the public project and the landowners then these cases can and do move to a legal body to resolve.

At that point, it is critical to work with a lawyer who understands these kinds of cases.

Answered 06/09/2017

Disclaimer: This answer was provided by an attorney selected to Super Lawyers, and is intended to be an educated opinion only. This answer should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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