The idea of eminent domain over property, also known as condemnation, makes good sense as a way to further the common good of Pennsylvanians. In essence, the power of eminent domain, granted by the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, gives government the power to seize property belonging to private parties for public purposes with the caveat that the state is required to provide just compensation.

Pennsylvania Takings Law

Pennsylvania law says that the commonwealth, its subdivision or designee, a public utility or any other legally empowered entity "condemns" property when it takes, injures or destroys it "by authority of law for a public purpose." The entity that condemns property is called the "acquiring agency," and the compensation paid for the property, whether paid by agreement or after a legal dispute, is called the "acquisition cost."

Residential and Commercial Properties

Private property may be either totally or partially condemned, and can be seized through eminent domain from individuals or businesses, impacting both residential life and commercial concerns. Each raises a host of serious issues to the condemnee, or property owner.

First and foremost, anyone facing condemnation of property needs to be fairly and fully compensated for the true value of the property, which can also include reasonable relocation expenses.

For a homeowner, obviously, beyond the financial impact is a personal one. It may not be a home or land the owner wants to part with, bringing personal loss, and it could be logistically difficult to move.

For a business, a decision will have to be made whether to cease doing business or relocate to a new location. Many factors can potentially impact the viability of a commercial enterprise after such an interruption.

Appropriate Public Purposes

Normally, eminent domain is only allowed when property is needed for an obviously public purpose like construction of a public waterworks, bridge, highway, road or similar structure. Pennsylvania also allows property taking for some "private enterprise," if project is otherwise legal under federal and commonwealth law. Some of these situations include:

  • When the property owner consents or does not object
  • When the property owner's preliminary objection is unsuccessful
  • When property is blighted, abandoned, uninhabitable, a nuisance or dangerous
  • When the private enterprise is incidentally within a public project
  • When the property will be used for certain urban development or low- or mixed-income housing
  • And more

Legal Advice and Legal Remedies

Pennsylvania statutes provide a complicated set of procedures with which a condemnor must comply when beginning a condemnation proceeding in commonwealth court. The law also lays out a complex method for the condemnee property owner to fight the eminent domain proceeding and ways in which just compensation may be officially determined.

Any Pennsylvanian who faces potential condemnation of property in his or her private or business life should speak immediately with a knowledgeable real estate attorney with specific experience fighting eminent domain and protecting the rights of those who wish to fight public takings or who are concerned about just compensation.

A condemnation lawyer from our law firm in Wilkes-Barre can help a condemnee sort out this complex area of law in order to determine how to proceed. Legal counsel can help the property owner respond to a notice of condemnation, meet deadlines, negotiate and fight in court if necessary.