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What constitutes a 'public use' in eminent domain law?

The federal Constitution as well as Pennsylvania's laws, protect the rights of citizens to enjoy their private property by using it in a way they see fit. Of course, there are some exceptions to this general principle, and one of those is the eminent domain exception.

As this blog has discussed previously, Pennsylvania and even local authorities have the right to take private land and put it to public use so long as they pair a just price for the land, which is generally considered to be fair market value.

One question that may come up in eminent domain proceedings is what exactly constitutes a public use of private property. By way of an extreme example, the Mayor of Philadelphia would have no right to use eminent domain to get choice land in order to build his or her private residence, as doing so would not constitute a public use.

Generally speaking, the government cannot use eminent domain to take property and then give it to another private enterprise. More specifically, the law prohibits the government, whether as part of an economic revitalization plan or otherwise, from using eminent domain to force the sale of a piece of property and then sell it back to a corporation for cheaper than what the corporation otherwise would have paid for it.

There are some exceptions to this prohibition but, generally speaking, government can only take private property in order to directly promote the common good. Using eminent domain as a form of land use or economic planning is not allowed in Pennsylvania. If a person who has been threatened by a state agency with eminent domain feels these rules are being violated, they should consider speaking with a real estate attorney who has experience with eminent domain issues.

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