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Eminent domain is not the same as condemnation in California

On Behalf of | May 28, 2024 | Eminent Domain

If you’re a California resident, you’ll be pleased to know that the state takes property rights seriously. That said, you should know that the government reserves the authority to claim private properties for public use. This risk comes with crucial distinctions: condemnation and eminent domain.

In social circles, condemnation and eminent domain are used interchangeably despite being distinct legal concepts. If you’re facing real estate roadblocks in the Golden State, it can help to know the difference between these terms.

Eminent domain

According to eminent domain provisions, government agencies reserve the power to claim private properties for public use. Such land can be used for private economic development. However, as stipulated in the Fifth Amendment, property owners whose properties get claimed are entitled to just compensation. The Golden State reiterates this stipulation to further property owner’s rights.


Conversely, condemnation is essentially the various stages in implementing eminent domain. A government agency exercising its power of eminent domain typically begins with a formal notification. If your property is being targeted, you will receive a notification of the agency’s intent to acquire your property. You can expect the notification to include the project that the agency will embark on and your proposed compensation.

Thankfully, you have the liberty to negotiate with the government agency. You can benefit from seeking legal guidance to determine if you should content the public purpose justification or simply the proposed compensation. Should the negotiations fall through, state law gives you the government agency authority to explore litigation. They can condemn your property through a lawsuit. At this point, the court has the discretion to rule on the legality of the taking as well as your property’s market value.

Key differences to remember

It’s easy to understand why these two legal concepts are used interchangeably; they represent different stages in the same process. However, you should remember that eminent domain is the underlying legal authority. Conversely, condemnation is the specific legal action taken to acquire property. Additionally, eminent domain establishes the justification for taking private property, while condemnation deals with the legal process and helps ensure fair compensation for the owner.

If you’re a property owner in the Golden State, it can help to distinguish between these legal concepts, even though most people use them interchangeably. Should you receive a notification for land acquisition, you can benefit from personalized legal feedback as you explore practical solutions.