There are few terms that landowners fear more than eminent domain. Most people understand the basic idea: that the government has the right to take your land for public use.
While the government can do this, as defined in the "taking clause" of the Fifth Amendment, it also ensures that landowners get "just compensation" back for your property. So what does that mean?
How is "just" defined?
Just compensation is often interpreted to mean fair value. There are many factors and different ways to measure value, but the most common with residential property is to compare it to other properties with similar size and features. An independent real estate appraiser will determine the value using these criteria.
While it's helpful to know what other properties sell for, there are additional factors that influence value. For businesses, income potential matters. In California, the level of surrounding development plays a huge role in property values, as does access to resources or water rights. If a property is replaceable, appraisers will determine the cost of replacement.
All of these factors will weigh into a value. Unfortunately, sentimentality and sweat equity do not. Value, in this case, is strictly monetary.
What about personal value?
The most frustrating part of eminent domain is often that personal value is not considered. You may have family land that dates back generations, or you may simply love your property and not wish to give it up. Under normal circumstances, stress, moving expenses and social values do not affect just compensation.
Land ownership is a long-held American tradition. It inspired the Westward expansion. While the Constitution establishes the government's right to take land for select purposes, you have rights to protect your investments. A skilled attorney will contest the rationale of public use and fight for a truly fair measurement when it comes to just compensation. The established precedent is that just compensation should provide a comfortable, neutral settlement for their property--accounting for every detail that affects its value.