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Eminent domain (United States), compulsory purchase (United Kingdom, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland), resumption/compulsory acquisition (Australia) or expropriation (South Africa and Canada) in common law legal systems is the inherent power of the state to seize a citizen's private property, expropriate property, or rights in property, without the owner's consent. The property is taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties who will devote it to "public use or civic" or in some cases, economic development. The most common uses of property taken by eminent domain are public utilities, highways, and railroads. Some states require that the government body offer to purchase the property before resorting to the use of eminent domain.
The legal doctrine of eminent domain, like the doctrine of seizure of contraband, allows expropriation of property without contradiction to the existing system of law. Otherwise, expropriation may imply either a criminal or a revolutionary act.
The term "condemnation" is used to describe the formal act of the exercise of the power of eminent domain to transfer title to private property from its rightful owner to itself. It is not to be confused with the same term that describes a declaration that real property, generally a building, has become so dilapidated as to be legally unfit for human habitation due to its physical defects. This type of condemnation of buildings (on grounds of health and safety hazards or gross zoning violation) usually does not deprive the owners of the title to the property condemned but requires them to rectify the offending situation or have the government do it for them and bill them for the cost.
Condemnation via eminent domain indicates the government is taking the property or an interest in it, such as an easement. In most cases the only thing that remains to be decided when a condemnation action is filed is the amount of just compensation, although in some cases the right to take may be challenged by the property owner on the grounds that the attempted taking is not for a public use, or has not been authorized by the legislature, or because the condemnor has not followed the proper procedure required by law.
The exercise of eminent domain is not limited to real property. Governments may also condemn personal property, such as supplies for the military in wartime, franchises, as well as intangible property such as contracts, patents, trade secrets, and copyrights.