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When can the government take private property for a public use?

When it comes to ownership of private property, landowners are protected by numerous laws. These protections usually allow them to prevent intruders from entering their land, use it for any purpose allowed by law and build dwellings or other buildings upon the property. However, there are certain situations in which private property can be taken over by the government, even if the landowner does not wish to hand over their property.

The most common of these situations is through the government's power of eminent domain. The power of eminent domain allows the government to force a landowner to sell their property, so that the government can revamp it for a public use.

In eminent domain actions, the government usually has to pay the landowner the fair market value of their property. Nonetheless, there are some situations in which the government may be able to take the land without paying the landowner any amount of money. There are two situations in which this most often happens.

First of all, the government can take property without paying the landowner, if the property appears to have been abandoned for a certain extended amount of time. The second situation in which the government can take property without paying the landowner is when a crime has been committed on the property, but the crime must have been connected to the property in some way. If the government believes that the property is actually connect with criminal activity, the police have the burden of proving in court by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is connected to criminal behavior.

If the property is seized and the authorities do not appropriately prove the criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence, then the property owner is able to file a claim against the police who may then have to pay legal fees. In addition, if the landowner can prove undue hardship then the court may be able to release the property back to the homeowner.

Source: Findlaw, "Can the Government Seize My Property Without Paying Me?" accessed on July 28, 2014

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