Eminent domain no excuse for property abuse

October 30, 2013 12:56PM

This article originally appeared in the Tennessean on October 21, 2013. by Justin Owen Most Tennesseans are unaware that the government can force them to sell their property — their home, their farm, their business — just because someone else has a better idea of what to do with it. Through the power of “eminent domain,” government can take your property and hand it over to private developers and give you far less than you think your property is worth, and you have very little recourse to stop them. Traditionally, eminent domain was used to take property for true public uses such as roads, schools and utilities, with the property owner receiving a just compensation in exchange. Over the past few decades, however, politicians and savvy developers have figured out how to force property owners to sell their property through the use of eminent domain, often providing a fraction of the land’s value in return. If a separate party can convince government that their plan for your property will create “economic development” or draw in more tax revenue, they can use the power of eminent domain to force you to sell. It really doesn’t matter how much value you place on your land or how much you want to keep it; all that matters is that they provide what they deem is a just compensation to take it. Nowadays, property taken via eminent domain is often turned into high-rise condominiums, factories and other purely private uses. Even worse, various properties taken by force now amount to nothing more than empty fields, mere remnants of the acquiring developers’ vision that never came to fruition. Absent a long legal battle, thousands in attorney’s fees and the stress that comes with it, you as a property owner have little say in the matter. The most prominent example of this involves Susette Kelo and her little pink house in New London, Conn. When Pfizer eyed her land for a new plant, the city condemned Susette’s land and gave it to the pharmaceutical giant. The project soon fell through, and the property where Susette’s pink house once stood is now an abandoned field. The abuse of eminent domain faced by property owners like Susette Kelo is an affront to the American way. Property rights should be cherished, not trampled upon by powerful governments to benefit politically connected developers or corporations. Tennessee legislators should ban the use of eminent domain that forces property owners to sell their property to another person. Only if the government plans to use the property for a traditional public use — like a school or a road — should it be able to invoke eminent domain. And if the government does take your property, it should have to properly justify its cause and provide you with fair compensation for your loss. By supporting these changes to our eminent domain laws, Tennesseans can truly preserve their family legacies, protect what is rightfully theirs and promote fairness under the law. Have you been threatened with eminent domain or even had your property taken and handed over to someone else? If you or someone you know has been impacted by eminent domain abuse, let us know. By telling your story, you can help ensure that your family, friends, neighbors and indeed all Tennesseans can control their family destiny. You can submit your story at Justin Owen is the president & CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee. The center’s mission is to change lives through public policy.