Imagine someone comes to you and informs you that you have to sell part of your property to them. They tell you not to worry because they’ll give you a fair price for the property. They’ll determine the fair price, of course. They also enthusiastically mention there will soon be a very convenient bus system running through what used to be your lawn. How exciting?This may sound ridiculous, but it is exactly what can happen when the government exercises its power of eminent domain. In short, eminent domain is a power the government has to force property owners to sell some or all of their property at a particular location for the public good. As President Reagan said:
Even if you believe the government will use your property for good, it still can be a most unsavory experience.Eminent Domain can be useful and the Founding Fathers did recognize potential need for eminent domain. Luckily for all of us, they also recognized this system could become abusive if there weren’t restrictions on the government. Accordingly, they provided the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution. The Fifth Amendment says in part:
[no person] shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The Founders' recognized that the government should provide compensation for the property taken. Courts have defined “just compensation” to be the fair market value of the property. And further, the taking of the property has to be done “with due process of law.” That means the government has to follow a number of rules before it can take your property.What does this have to do with you? Provo and Orem are creating the infrastructure for its Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT). This system will likely greatly improve public transportation in Provo. However, it will come at a cost to some Utah County residents. Provo and Orem will are expanding roads to create new bus lanes and stations. This means the government will be using eminent domain to take property and create or enlarge public easements.Utah has well-developed case law on this matter. The Utah Supreme Court has even gone so far as to state the government must compensate land owners for the value of the land taken and for the loss in value of the remaining land.
[O]ur measure of severance damages has always been the diminution in market value of the remainder property. And in assessing fair market value in the context of severance damages we have always allowed evidence of all factors that affect value.” UDOT v. Admiral Beverage Corp., 2011 UT 62, 275 P.3d 208
To put that in other words, say the government takes 6 feet off your property and that 6 feet is worth $10,000. They may owe you more than that simply $10,000 because it is possible that your left over land is now worth less than it would have been worth had the 6 feet remained part of the original property. So let’s say the loss of the 6 feet caused your left over land to be worth $20,000 less. Then it would be reasonable to seek $10,000+$20,000 for a total of $30,000 from the government because that is the true measure of what the government is taking.
While there are safeguards in place to ensure that the government does not take advantage of citizens, the process can be complicated. That’s why we’re here to help. You don’t have to take the government’s appraisal of your property for granted. We at Sumsion Business Law can make sure you’re justly compensated. We’ve handled numerous matters like this that have resulted in positive results. When the government comes for your property, call us.