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When will they take my land away?
December 1, 2012 4:08 AM   Subscribe

If you own some land, under what conditions can it be taken away from you?

I imagine if the government is building a superhighway, they may have a way of forcing you to sell. If all of your neighbors gang up on you for keeping your area too blighted, perhaps City Hall has a way of taking your land away from you, something like Child Protective Social Services. What are some common conditions under which land that you own can be taken away by other humans?
posted by shipbreaker to Law & Government (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Eminent domain is the government's power to take real property, under certain conditions and for just compensation. Those conditions are usually that the property be taken for public use (your highway example is a very clear public use). That can also include takings for the purpose of eradicating blight, which is somewhat more controversial, as is taking for the purpose of putting property to a greater economic use (as the Supreme Court allowed in Kelo v. City of New London.
posted by devinemissk at 4:26 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


forced tax sale to recover unpaid property taxes
posted by drlith at 4:27 AM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Historically, invasion by colonial powers. But I guess(?) that doesn't happen too often any more. At least not in Western countries.

When we were growing up, our house was next to a school, and we were told when we bought it that the school had the right to purchase the land from us at government valuation at any time if they needed to expand. But that was written into the deed, so maybe it's not a common situation.
posted by lollusc at 4:27 AM on December 1, 2012


A friend was just telling me last night about Ecuador, and I'm sorry I can't find good links on this now, where he owns some property. There, wealthy corporations/people may buy up huge swaths of land but never visit it. After a few years, non-wealthy people may start to inhabit the land, build property, and so on. After a few years beyond that (5, 10, something like that), the original owners lose their rights to it, because they haven't actually been using the land. Thus, land gets redistributed, and it's "fair" in the way that everybody knows the rules.
posted by knile at 4:58 AM on December 1, 2012


Eminent domain is indeed the big one. Other things include foreclosure (if you have a mortgage), foreclosure of other liens (such as a HOA lien), adverse possession (which includes squatter's rights), or sale by a bankruptcy court. If you jointly own the land, there are situations where a sale could also be forced by the other owner(s) or by the other owners' bankruptcy.

There are also times when an entity can remove items on your property, eg. mandatory or even city-financed demolition of an unsafe structure, or mandatory removal of illegally constructed items (such as illegal placed fill in a wetlands area).

Your property is also subject to other conditions, including zoning restrictions, water rights (most important out West, where owning the water rights can be as or more important than owning the land), previously sold mineral rights, and, as lollusc notes, various deed restrictions, which can include pretty much everything. The most common types of deed restrictions include environmental restrictions, which can include things like not allowing you to put residential housing on a piece of contaminated land, or use restrictions, which can include, say, a gas station selling half their property with the condition that it not be used for another gas station for at least 50 years.
posted by pie ninja at 5:04 AM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


You might retain ownership of the land but be affected by a statute or court ruling that severely limits what you can do with it, as in the case of protected wetlands for example.

Another thing I would think might happen is if your country were to somehow cede that land to another nation you would lose it.
posted by XMLicious at 5:04 AM on December 1, 2012


IAAL, my practice is creditor's rights.

The short answer is that "it depends". The biggest factor will be what protections, if any, your state allows for the homestead i.e. your primary residence. In my state (Florida), the homestead protection is in the state constitution and is very strong. The homestead can only be seized for reasons directly related to the parcel itself such as mechanics liens, tax liens, HOA assessments, and mortgages. If I sue you in court and win, I can't take your homestead. Other real property would be fair game, though, because you can only have one homestead. The level of homestead protection will vary from state to state.

People have already mentioned eminent domain. It used to just be about seizing property for private use, such as to build a highway, but Kelo embarrassingly changed that. Adverse possession is what knile described; basically, if you have property and are not using it, others can take ownership of it if they possess it in an open and obvious manner for a period of time. In my state, the period is seven years, and you just can't squat on it but have to file a claim with the county, pay the property taxes for those years, and improve the property or live on it. The first owner can break the process by simply paying taxes or showing up. It's traditionally a pretty rare thing, but it has been increasing with the foreclosure bubble as people try to take over abandoned houses.

In general, if you behave, you're not going to lose your land except to eminent domain, a easement by operation law, or if there is some other government need for it like if they discover some endangered mouse on it.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:22 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Asset forfeiture, if you're using the house to make or distribute drugs.
posted by Etrigan at 6:47 AM on December 1, 2012


if you're using the house to make or distribute drugs

This is a sore spot, and should be an embarrassment to everyone in the U.S. It's not just "if you're using the house to make or distribute drugs" (or to do something else illegal); it's "if the government would like to take it, and someone is willing to say that you're using the property to do something illegal, or that someone else is using the property to do something illegal, or that you acquired the property using money that was obtained from doing something illegal.

Even worse, the standard of proof for this is "preponderance of evidence," or "more likely than not." So even though you might not be convicted of doing whatever they said you did (because you get "beyond a reasonable doubt,") you might still lose your property. Not to mention the fact that, once the government gets its paws on your stuff, it's likely to be worthless or destroyed by the time you get it back, if you ever do.

More at Radley Balko's site. (You may find it to be strident and/or ax-grindey, but he's a sharp guy, and the War On Some Drugs and its fellow traveler, Asset Forefeiture, are really a national shame.)
posted by spacewrench at 1:56 PM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend was just telling me last night about Ecuador, and I'm sorry I can't find good links on this now, where he owns some property. There, wealthy corporations/people may buy up huge swaths of land but never visit it. After a few years, non-wealthy people may start to inhabit the land, build property, and so on. After a few years beyond that (5, 10, something like that), the original owners lose their rights to it, because they haven't actually been using the land. Thus, land gets redistributed, and it's "fair" in the way that everybody knows the rules.

This is adverse possession. It happens in the States, too: Kenneth Robinson somewhat notoriously claimed a house valued at $300k in Texas in 2011. (It appears that he was eventually kicked out1.)

1. Warning: autoplaying video.
posted by kdar at 3:28 PM on December 1, 2012


To be clear on the comment above on the 'endangered mouse' the US Endangered Species Act doesn't Really allow for the government to claim your land but rather regulate what can be done to the habitat on it. It's a significant difference and there is a lot of confusion around it .
posted by buttercup at 6:37 PM on December 1, 2012


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