Eminent Domain is back in the media and being used by Governor Christie. In a nutshell, eminent domain is a rarely used legal premise which allows the government to take private land for the public good. A typical scenario is if a city takes a deserted, dilapidated area and transforms the area into a park. The government must compensate private landowners if they are taking the property.
Eminent domain ideas have been circulating for the past few years in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. A few cities considered using eminent domain in order to buy homeowners underwater property to prevent the onslaught of foreclosures. Banks threatened many of these cities with legal actions. Therefore, the idea of eminent domain was dropped by many cities that would not be able to fight a legal battle against the bank.
Governor Christie wants to build protective coastal dunes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The state needed about 2,000 properties and 800 residents refused to allow the state an easement for the dunes to be constructed. Town officials along the New Jersey coast, with the support of the Governor are now prepared to sieve the land. Appraisers have already been dispatched to assess the value of the property. Homeowners who have refused easements may get as little as $1,000.00 and loose easy access from their homes to the beach. Governor Christie reading of eminent domain is a very narrow reading and raises a frightening prospect of the government’s ability to condemn land in order to take it when homeowners refuse to allow the government easements.