Can the Government Really Take Your Land?

If you have received notice that the local, state, or federal government wishes to take your property under a right of eminent domain, your first thought might be, Is that even legal? In many situations, it is perfectly legal. In others, it is illegal but the government gets away with it because property owners either don’t understand their rights or believe it is futile to challenge the government.


Eminent domain allows government agencies and even private developers to seize private property as long as the “taking” will satisfy a public use. The problem with many eminent domain situations is that “public use” has historically been broadly defined to include projects in which the public’s need for the property is questionable at best.

Controversial Eminent Domain Practices

One of the most controversial eminent domain cases was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 in Kelo v. City of New London. In Kelo, the Court held that a municipality could condemn and take property from one private owner and transfer it to another private owner to further an economic development plan.


The decision was highly controversial, in part because the property taken in Kelo was not blighted or distressed. Instead, it was a small neighborhood of seven well-kempt homes – most notably a small, pink, and picturesque Victorian house owned by the lead plaintiff in the case, Susette Kelo.


Furthermore, the property was given to a large corporation, Pfizer, which ultimately abandoned the area without ever building the research facility that was supposed to create new jobs and inject millions of dollars into the local economy. According to numerous reports, the neighborhood targeted by the corporation is today a wasteland of overgrown weeds.


After the 5-4 Kelo decision, nearly every state, including California, passed laws designed to prevent eminent domain abuses.

What Is a “Proper” Taking?

Because “public use” is often a voluminous concept, it can be difficult to determine if a stated public use constitutes a legitimate taking. Examples of commonplace and permissible eminent domain takings include property seized for:


  • Road construction/road widening
  • Public parks
  • Schools
  • Libraries
  • Fire and police stations
  • Airports
  • Public utilities (gas lines, telephone lines, electricity)
  • Water treatment plants
  • Defense
  • Condemnation of blighted or abandoned properties
  • Taking of brownfields


If you believe the government is unlawfully attempting to take your property, it is important to speak to a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible.

California Eviction and Real Estate Law

Attorney Kirkman J. Hoffman has more than 20 years’ experience representing commercial and residential landlords, owners, and property managers in Silicon Valley and the surrounding regions. Contact the team at Hoffman Law Group today at (408) 241-9620 to discuss your real estate matter.


This website has been prepared by Hoffman Law Group, APC for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.