Across the United States, municipalities, states, and even the federal government have the right to seize the property of private citizens under some circumstances. Although the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure of their property, government actors have carved out a range of “reasonable” seizures that are permitted under the law. Some of these seizures are defined under the term “eminent domain.”
Rhode Island has codified the standards for the state and municipalities to take real property from citizens under Rhode Island General Laws, 42-64.12. The laws under this chapter are designed to set the process for an eminent domain taking and ensure that persons who have property seized by the government for any purpose are compensated fairly for their loss.
One reason the government commonly uses eminent domain powers is to construct or modify roadways or other infrastructure or utility improvements. Because this use is widely understood to be in furtherance of the public good, the government need only compensate private citizens for the property’s fair market value. In addition to infrastructure uses, the government often seeks to seize private property for economic development purposes. Because economic development is not as widely agreed to be for the public good, the government needs to compensate private citizens whose property is seized for economic development more generously than for other uses. Specifically, the government must pay at least 150% of the property’s fair market value, as well as for relocation and moving expenses incurred by the person whose property was seized.