Takings for Public Use
Eminent domain is the power granted to the government (federal, state and local), to seize an individual’s private land and convert it to a public use. As we will discuss in the Condemnation article, this is not a free-for-all for the government to take land for whatever purpose it likes and without having to pay you for it. There are requirements and limits, the most basic of which is that you, as a landowner, must be fairly compensated when your property is taken.
But right now, we want to focus on understanding what exactly a “public use” is under these laws. You have probably seen numerous examples of this sort of thing all around you without knowing what it was. Public uses are things like new public schools, new or wider roads, public works utilities, and military bases. Sometimes these public uses are relatively minor. For example, if you live on a two-lane highway, and the state decides to widen it to include a margin in between the lanes, the state may take some, or all, of your property for that purpose. You can read more about eminent domain takings related to highways and roads here. While no one wants to be forced to sell their property to make way for new fire and police stations or libraries, sometimes a person’s property is taken under eminent domain for the “progress” of society.
The problem arises when the government doesn’t play fair. The North Carolina Statutes do not define what exactly “public use” means, and many cases have been litigated on whether something is or is not for a public use. This vagueness has led to property being taken to increase the community wealth by taking property and giving it to private development companies. For more on that, see Takings for Private Development.