Can Private Companies Use Eminent Domain?

There has been much talk about some of the outrages associated with eminent domain since a controversial Supreme Court decision in 2005. There is a perception that a private company can take your property.

While that is not entirely true, there is a chance that your ownership could be at risk when a company wants to develop on your land. Our South Carolina eminent domain attorneys can stand up for you when the government is trying to walk all over you. Call us today at West Law Firm to discuss your case.

The Government Can Take Your Property for Private Development Through Eminent Domain

In general, developers do not have the power of eminent domain. The government is the entity that can take your property for public use. There may be some cases where the government delegates powers to a private entity that may allow them to use the power of eminent domain.

More common is a situation where the government is trying to take property that would then be used for private development. It would be developers who end up with the use of your property to build a project.

There Is a Broad Definition of Public Use

For property owners, the problem is that the term “public use” is given a very broad meaning. In practice, there are few constraints on what may be considered public use. Oftentimes, the only protections are found in specific state laws that restrict the use of eminent domain.

The Supreme Court decision in the case of Kelo v. New London was immensely controversial.

The Court allowed the city of New London to take private property in the name of economic development.

In Kelo, the government was using the power of eminent domain to take blighted property to use for a redevelopment plan. The property was supposedly needed to build a corporate campus that would house offices for Pfizer.

South Carolina Puts Some Limits on the Government Taking Land

South Carolina voters responded to Kelo by passing an amendment to the State Constitution that addressed the exact facts that were at issue in the Court decision. The government is not allowed to seize blighted property for purposes of economic development.

Still, there may be other public uses that could allow for taking of land for private developers.

Note that the Constitutional amendment only applies when property is blighted. There may be other circumstances when it could be permissible for property to be seized for the use of developers.

However, the South Carolina Supreme Court has drawn its own limitations that have withstood decades of changes in jurisprudence. In Anderson v. Baehr, the Court struck down a Bond Act when the results of the taking would have benefited the developer instead of the public. Here, the Court held that parking, a convention center, and private commercial space were not a public use.

In that case, the Court stated the rule as follows:

“As a general rule a public purpose has for its objective the promotion of the public health, safety, morals, general welfare, security, prosperity, and contentment of all the inhabitants or residents, or at least a substantial part thereof.”

Your Property Rights Are Still Not Entirely Safe

There is an opening for the government to seize non-blighted land for the use of the developer when the benefit is for the public. There is an argument to be made that some of these land seizures can work for the prosperity of a substantial part of the public.

Courts give a very wide berth to the government, and there are few outer bounds on their eminent domain power. The government may have created a development commission to promote and stimulate growth. These agencies may seek to acquire your property and transfer it to a developer. They may pressure you outside the eminent domain process. They could make you offers for your property that are worth far less than the value of your property.

Alternatively, a private developer may need to use your land for an easement. Their development could be cut off from a highway or road, and they may need to purchase part of your land. The developer could try to persuade the government to use their power of eminent domain to benefit the developer.

The good news is that South Carolina is considered to be one of the more favorable states for protection of property owner’s rights. State courts have drawn lines over the years that have checked the government’s power somewhat. However, you may still need to fight to preserve your property rights in the face of a government that wants to build on property or a developer that wants to make money.

Contact a Lawyer When You Are Being Pressured to Sell Your Property

If you are being pressured, or if the government has informed you that it intends to use its eminent domain power, you should contact a lawyer immediately. You may have the ability to fight back.

You are entitled to your day in court if you want to stop the eminent domain process. The court would consider who is truly benefiting from the taking of your land; the public or the developer.

South Carolina legal precedent may be used to shut down a taking if it is the developer who is the main beneficiary.

More often, eminent domain battles come down to the amount of compensation that the government is offering. The government must pay you fair market value when it takes your property. However, the government often starts low. They may make you an inadequate offer for your property, counting on you to take it without a fight. You may have to fight in court to get the money that your property is worth.

Call a South Carolina Eminent Domain Lawyer

When the government is trying to use its eminent domain power to violate your rights, West Law Firm can help you stand up for yourself. Call us today at 843-483-8630 or message us through our website to schedule an appointment to talk about your case.

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