“Eminent domain” – also called “condemnation” – is the power of local, state or federal government agencies to take private property for “public use” so long as the government pays “just compensation.” The government can exercise its power of eminent domain even if the owner does not wish to sell his or her property.
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that private property may not be taken for a public use without payment of “just compensation.” Similarly, article I section 19 of the California Constitution provides that private property may not be taken or
damaged by the government unless it pays “just compensation.”
The items for which a property/business owner may generally attempt to seek just compensation are (1) real property, (2) improvements pertaining to realty (sometimes referred to as fixtures and equipment), and (3) business goodwill. Just compensation for these items is generally the “fair market value” of the item as of a particular date. Each of these items is discussed in further detail in the questions and answers which follow. In addition, occupants may be entitled to relocation benefits which are generally determined separately from just compensation.
Under the California Constitution, property and business owners are entitled to have just compensation determined by a jury.