Condemn in the legal sense refers to when a government exercises its eminent domain powers to seize private property for public use. Both local/state governments and the Federal Government have the authority to condemn property.
As established in Boom Company v. Patterson, the ability to condemn property is an inherent part of a government’s sovereignty. That said, governments are subject to constitutional or statutory restrictions regarding when/how they can condemn property. The Federal Government is subject to the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment which states that they must provide just compensation to any party whose land is seized under eminent domain and that land can only be condemned when it furthers a public purpose. Generally, just compensation is determined by the fair market value of the condemned property.
State and local governments are subject to the restrictions of their state constitutions and any laws authorizing a local government to exert the power to condemn. For example, Article X §2 of the Michigan constitution permits Michigan to condemn property but requires them to pay not less than 125% of the fair market value of that property.
Condemnation can either be permanent or temporary and can occur for a variety of reasons. Common reasons a government condemns property include development of public utilities like a road, creation of a nature preserve, or because the property represents a danger to the public in its decayed state.
A party whose land is subject to condemnation can challenge that condemnation in court on grounds that the government overstepped its authority or failed to provide adequate compensation. For example, a decision to condemn 46 parcels of land for a new technology center was overturned in County of Wayne v. Hathcock because the Michigan constitution only authorizes eminent domain for public uses.
Outside the field of property law, a party who has been found guilty of a crime, particularly when they are sentenced to death, may be referred to as “condemned”.
[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]
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