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Can the government just take my land?

| Oct 12, 2020 | Land Use & Zoning |

Your Georgia home and property are undoubtedly a source of pride for you. Even if you don’t spend as much time as you would like to make it look like a magazine cover, just having ownership is a success, whether you inherited it from family or bought it with your hard-earned money. Owning property is an achievement, and you probably can’t imagine someone coming along and taking it from you.

Nevertheless, under certain conditions, the government can take some or all of your property, even if you do not agree to it. It is true that local, state or even federal government agencies can acquire land from private citizens if it is for the use of the public good. The Constitution even addresses this right, called eminent domain, by insisting that governments provide fair compensation for any land they take.

Why are they taking my land?

If your land is located in an area the government needs for certain public projects, you may receive notice that the agency is offering you a sum of money in exchange for the land. For example, the government may require your land for any of the following or other uses that relate to the public good:

  • Building a road or bridge, or using your land to expand an existing causeway
  • Installing public utilities, such as water lines, electrical poles, communication cables or gas lines
  • Erecting a building for government use, such as a school or a town hall
  • Creating or expanding public parks
  • Producing materials for war or preparing for national emergencies

You may be confused if the reason the government gives for taking your land is to construct a hotel or private commercial business. However, the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 to include any use that is generally in the interests of the community.

What are my rights?

Fighting the decision to take your property is not easy, and in many cases, the property owner has no leverage in the face of eminent domain. You may be able to convince the court that the reason for taking your property is not for the benefit of the public, but this is a challenging position to take.

While you may not have much say over whether the government takes your land for its project, you do have some say in what might be an appropriate compensation for your loss. You do not have to accept the first offer the government makes, and it may be to your benefit to seek legal advice before agreeing to any compensation amount.

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