Eminent domain can be a touchy subject. Everyone wants better roads, more sewer access, and greater public utilities at their disposal. But most people don’t want the government to take their land to provide the aforementioned amenities.
Eminent domain gives the government the right to take your land to provide for a “public use” as long as they give you just compensation. The questions that immediately arise are numerous, but they usually center on these three ideas:
- What is public use?
- What is just compensation?
- What can I do about it if I don’t agree?
First, what does eminent domain mean in Tennessee?
Legal meaning – The Tennessee Constitution provides that “no man’s particular services shall be demanded, or property taken, or applied to public use, without the consent of his representatives, or without just compensation being made therefore.” Tenn. Const. art. 1, § 21
Practical meaning – Eminent domain is the process by which the government takes private property for public use. The power of the government can extend to private companies such as railroad, telephone and electrical powers if they have approval from the legislature.
What is a public use?
A public use can take many different forms. A power line is a common example of a public use. The land used for the poles to carry the line is often taken by eminent domain in Tennessee. Perhaps the most common example of an eminent domain for a public use is the taking of land to build roads. The taking of land by eminent domain was the subject of hot debate in the building of the newly finished I-840 loop. The new loop cut into several large and historic farms in Williamson County. The landowners felt they did not receive just compensation for the land that was taken from them.
What is just compensation?
Just compensation differs in states across the country. The compensation clause in California requires compensation for “damaging” property as well as for “taking” property. Tennessee’s clause only affords for the “taking” component.
The first value is simply what the government feels is “reasonable.” But the definition of reasonable is extremely vague. The government, however, does acquire an appraisal to determine the amount of money offered to you.
The government will approach you about purchasing your land and provide you with a quote. You can either accept the quote or decline it. The government may consider raising the price, but it doesn’t have to. At the end of the day, if the government wants the land for a legitimate public use, it will take it.
What can I do if I don’t agree or if the price offered is too low?
Eminent domain in Tennessee provides avenues for payment dispute. If you wish to dispute the amount paid, hire an attorney to bring the suit to court. In the hearing, your attorney will have several appraisers or real estate experts testify why the land is more valuable than the amount paid by the government. This process is often handled by mediation with the governmental entity.
What if my land was damaged but I didn’t receive money?
If your land has sustained damage because of utility projects near or adjacent to your land, you can also file suit. This type of this action is known as inverse condemnation. One of the more common inverse condemnation claims involves the constant flooding of a portion of your property caused by the new structure built by the governmental entity.
Inverse condemnation must be brought within one year of when you realized or should have realized that your property has sustained damage that is permanent in nature. In other words, act quickly!
For a more in-depth look at eminent domain in Tennessee, review this PDF which outlines the official state policies and procedures.