Eminent Domain, also known as condemnation law, allows the state to acquire your property when they want to use it for a public use. The are allowed to do this because of the 5th amendment to the U.S. Constitution via the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The fifth amendment states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” (the more widely known section of the 5th amendment prevents self-incrimination and is widely used in criminal movies – this is the actual juicy part of that amendment). The words, even though written in the 1700′s, continue to carry a plain meaning today: the government cannot take your property with paying you just compensation for it. The 14th amendment factors in here as it is the law that makes the states adhere to the rules of the U.S. Constitution (also known as the enabling clause).
Although the words are plain and are easily definable, the extent of their power has been widely debated. Take the word public use, for example. On its face, it seems to be a pretty narrow word. As shown by the case Kelo vs. City of New London, however, defining public use can cause quite an uproar. Although limited now by many state statutes, Kelo defined public use as essentially anything that benefited the public. For Kelo, this included the government acquiring property to stimulate economic development — a definition that angered many people.
Just compensation, on the other hand, has been pretty strictly defined since its inception. In a nut shell, just compensation has come to mean what a willing buyer would pay and a willing seller would sell for in an open, competitive market, without undue compulsion. Although that seems like a fairly comprehensive definition, essentially meaning fair market value, eminent domain law actually leaves out a lot of the factors many want to use when determining just compensation.
Condemnation usually occurs after an offer is made by an acquisition agent for your property, although it isn’t required in some states. Condemnation is started by filing a petition for condemnation, which begins an administrative process whereby several independent individuals, often appraisers, are presented with information regarding your property and asked to evaluate the just compensation due for the acquisition. This can be a cordial or an adversarial process, depending on the circumstances.
Once the court-appraisers have heard both sides, they adjourn, often for several days, and issue a written report determining the just compensation for the property. At that time, the state officially owns your property, although the process does not necessarily have to end there.
If either side is unsatisfied with the award they may file an appeal, which results in a jury trial, the entire point of which is to determine the just compensation due the landowner (the taking itself is not an issue – only damages). The jury’s award is the final say, and when the state pays the determined just compensation to the court clerk, the matter is officially adjourned. » Read more: Eminent Domain Or Condemnation – An Overview