DEFINITION of Condemnation

Condemnation is the seizure of property by a government with for a public purpose.

BREAKING DOWN Condemnation

In the U.S., states and the federal government have the right of eminent domain, which allows them to condemn property, transferring the title from private to public ownership. The condemning authority must provide "just compensation" (the language comes from the fifth amendment) and the condemnation must be carried out for some public purpose.

Owners of condemned property can challenge the legality of the seizure in court, suing for more compensation or the right to keep the property based on failure to prove that the seizure was in the public interest. Government authorities must first appraise the property to be seized. They may then pay a pro tanto award, which the owner can accept without losing the right to sue, or the parties can come to a full settlement. Pro tanto payments are often small compared to the amount the courts ultimately award owners of condemned property.

The most straightforward examples of condemnation involve land and buildings, which governments might seize in order to make way for a public project, such as a highway; or private projects that are believed to serve the public good, such as a hotel that is expected to attract business and generate tax revenue. Not all condemned property is real estate, however. Funds have been subject to eminent domain, and some legal scholars argue that governments could even seize intellectual property through condemnation.