Eminent domain and inverse condemnation: What’s the difference?

On Behalf of | Jan 16, 2019 | Blog

Even if you’re the rightful owner of a piece of property, there are times when the government has the ability to take that property from you for some “greater good.”

Let’s look at two common situations involving property that’s taken by the government for use, known as eminent domain and inverse condemnation cases.

Eminent domain

Eminent domain occurs whenever the government forces a private owner to sell private property. Eminent domain is allowed under the United States Constitution — however, the government is required to pay the private owner fair or just compensation for the property that’s taken. Generally speaking, property owners usually get the chance to challenge the right of eminent domain (if the so desire) in order to protect their property rights.

Eminent domain cases often come up, for example, when the government decides that it needs to widen a busy road. That can’t be done without taking over some of the land on either side of the road. If that land happens to be part of several homeowners’ front yards or the ends of several farmers’ fields, the right of eminent domain can still allow the road to go through.

Inverse condemnation

What happens, however, when the government suddenly acts in a way that deprives a property owner of some use of his or her property without either advance notice or fair compensation?

That’s inverse condemnation, and it could happen though an overt action (like laying down material on several feet of someone’s land to widen a road) or through regulatory action (like passing a new zoning law that suddenly makes it impossible for a business owner to keep operating). In the first case, the property is simply taken. In the second, the property’s overall value is diminished, even though the owner retains his or her title.

In inverse condemnation cases, the property owner has legal options. He or she can demand the just compensation that’s due or seek to overcome the regulatory action that’s affecting his or her property rights.

Are you struggling to understand your own situation due to a city, state or federal government action? Find out more about your rights by contacting an attorney with experience handling eminent domain or inverse condemnations.