The power of eminent domain by the government has long been used in the United States to acquire private property for public use. The U.S. first put this power to work in 1876 in the case of Kohl v. United States. In this unique case, an Ohio landowner challenged the power of the U.S. to condemn land in Cincinnati to use for a post office building and customs house. The act of condemnation was acknowledged again two decades later by the Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v. Gettysburg Electric Railroad Company.
Eminent domain is defined as the taking of private property by a government entity for public use. In exchange for the property, the government is required to pay the property owner just compensation, otherwise known as fair market value. If a government entity wishes to take property for public use and this “use” is validated by an Arizona court, there is little that the property owner can do to stop it. However, it is important to note that not all types of properties can be taken by the government under eminent domain laws. Learn more about what property is exempt from eminent domain in Arizona.
Reasons that the Government Exercises Eminent Domain
There are many reasons why a government entity may decide to take private property using its eminent domain power. A.R.S. § 12-1111 outlines specific legal reasons that justify a government entity’s choice to exercise eminent domain.
Examples of valid public use of private property under eminent domain laws in Arizona include:
- Public uses authorized by the federal government.
- Streets, roads, and alleys to benefit villages, towns, cities, or countries.
- Canals, reservoirs, flumes, ditches, pipes, or aqueducts to benefit villages, towns, cities, or countries, or for use for irrigation, transportation, or to generate electricity.
- Grounds or buildings for use in a town, city, county, or school district.
Property that Is Exempt from Eminent Domain in Arizona
If you are facing an eminent domain situation, it is important to understand your legal rights. While most private property owners must adhere to eminent domain laws, some types of property may be exempt from eminent domain in Arizona. Some of these properties include:
1. Places of Worship
Places of worship are generally exempt from eminent domain in Arizona. This includes a wide range of religious properties, such as churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations.
2. Burial Grounds
Cemeteries or burial grounds are also exempt from eminent domain in Arizona. Burial grounds are considered sacred properties and cannot, therefore, be taken by a government entity for other public uses other than what it was originally intended for.
4. Places of Education
Another type of property that is generally exempt from eminent domain in Arizona includes places of education. Examples include higher education institutions, community colleges, technical and vocational schools, and private colleges and universities.
5. Federally Protected Areas
Certain federally protected areas in Arizona may be exempt from the eminent domain process. For example, Native American tribal lands are generally considered protected areas.
It is also important to note that a private property owner cannot convert the use of their property into any of the above exempt properties in an attempt to avoid condemnation once the eminent domain process has already begun.
What Happens If a Property Is Not Exempt from Eminent Domain?
If your property is not exempt from eminent domain in Arizona, you risk having your land taken by the government. Condemnation is the process of exercising eminent domain powers and can occur even if you are against it. However, there are things that property owners can do to impede the process.
First, determine the reasoning for the property to be taken. To exercise eminent domain in Arizona, the land must be purchased for public use. This means that the property will be used to benefit the general public. If you do not accept a monetary offer from the government entity, your case will go to court, and the court will decide if the government entity has a valid purpose for taking the property.
Another requirement that a government entity must complete is paying out fair compensation to the property owner in exchange for the property. The property owner is not required to accept the first offer made. However, a property owner cannot prevent the property from being taken by simply denying payment.
The court will determine a fair market value for the property and offer payment to the landowner. Having a reputable Arizona eminent domain attorney by your side during these proceedings is important to ensure a fair outcome. An attorney can also help you refute condemnation proceedings or negotiate a better deal than the one offered.
Reasons to Speak with an Arizona Eminent Domain Attorney
Finding out that a government entity plans to take your property can be a confusing and frustrating experience. You may not understand your legal rights or know whether or not you should accept the first monetary offer that comes your way. Having a reputable Arizona eminent domain attorney to guide you through this complex process is critical.
An eminent domain attorney will start by determining whether the taking is valid. If your attorney believes that the property is not being taken for “public purpose,” you may not need to sell your property at all. Although rare, this type of situation can occur, allowing the property owner to retain its rightful land.
If there are no other options, a property owner may be legally required to sell the land to the government entity. If this occurs, an Arizona eminent domain attorney can help ensure that the property owner receives just compensation or possibly additional compensation if the initial offer is considered too low or if there are other justifications.
The right legal team can make the complex eminent domain process go much more smoothly. Contact the Arizona eminent domain attorneys at JacksonWhite Law today to learn how we can assist you with your case. Call us now at (480)467-4334!