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Eminent domain 101: what landowners should know

Eminent domain is the power of a government to take private property for a public purpose. Government often uses the power to obtain land for governmental facilities or roads.  A private Company may even be allowed to take private property for purposes like an electric transmission line or pipeline. The law recognizes such “takings” to be “harsh” and “extraordinary.” Landowners who are affected certainly agree.

The Constitutions of the United States (5th Amendment) and Wisconsin (Art. I, Sec, 13) entitle landowners to just compensation when private property is taken for public purposes. Laws and rules have evolved to provide landowners some additional protection.

What is just compensation?

Just compensation is the market value of the property taken. Many factors can go into calculating compensation, such as:

  • Size;
  • Current and available uses for the property;
  • Market conditions;
  • The effect on the property that is left.

Often the government’s valuation and the landowner’s valuation of the “taking” will not match, or even be close. If a landowner refuses the amount offered, the “condemnor” can move on to court proceedings for condemnation.

Ultimately, a jury can decide the value of the property “taken.”

Taking without taking

Even when property isn’t slated to be “taken” under an eminent domain action, a project may so badly interfere with the ability to use property that right to “inverse condemnation” may arise.  In this circumstance, a landowner starts a lawsuit to get compensation.


Sometimes the “taking” is so extensive that a landowner is forced off the property.  In these cases, displaced persons are entitled to the costs of finding and relocating to a different property.