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Explainer: Eminent domain

| Dec 28, 2020 | Eminent domain |

It’s probably safe to assume that few Utah residents relish their contacts with city, state or federal government officials. The exchanges most people have with governmental bodies are about taxes, regulations and requirements imposed by various agencies – and many of those interactions are likely to be merely annoying or tedious.

Compare that to the upheaval and chaos that many Utah homeowners and business owners undergo when they’re contacted by government because an agency has decided that their property is needed for a public purpose and it’s exercising the power of eminent domain.

‘Can they do that?’

One of the first things to go through a property owner’s mind at that point is “Can they do that? Can government take my property from me?”

The answer is yes, the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows government to take private property for public use, as long as the owner receives just compensation.

Some examples of public use that can involve eminent domain include projects such as the construction of roads, hospitals, mass transit, schools, railroad lines, housing developments and more.

On its website, the Utah Department of Commerce notes that property owners must be given just compensation for their property in the form of fair market value.

What is fair market value?

The department says fair market value is “is determined through objective analysis of what a reasonable and well-informed buyer would pay to purchase property from a reasonable and well-informed seller.” Here’s what fair market value does not include: the sentimental value of your home or family business. Property owners are also not compensated for long-time ownership or their “unique need or use of the property.”

However, owners can negotiate compensation terms, request arbitration or mediation and be represented by an attorney throughout the eminent domain process.