Iowa Eminent Domain Laws

WHAT IS EMINENT DOMAIN? 

In Iowa, eminent domain gives the government the power to take your property, even if you don’t want to sell. But under the Fifth Amendment, eminent domain must be for a “public use,” which traditionally meant projects like roads or bridges. Meanwhile, the government must pay the owners “just compensation” for their property.

THE SUPREME COURT DECISION, KELO V. NEW LONDON, MADE IT MUCH EASIER TO ABUSE EMINENT DOMAIN

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted federal protection against unconstitutional eminent domain when it handed down its decision in Kelo v. New London in 2005. By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court dramatically expanded the definition of “public use” to include private economic development. In other words, local governments can condemn homes and businesses and transfer them to new owners if government officials think that the new owners will produce more taxes or jobs with the land.

As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned in her dissent: “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”

IOWA RESPONDS TO KELO

In 2006, Iowa passed a bill (HF 2351) that made it more difficult for government officials to label properties “blighted,” and pursue eminent domain projects that would benefit private developers. While not perfect, HF 2351 represents an important improvement in Iowa’s protection of property rights. The new law changes how blight designations are used and requires a property-by-property assessment. Only when 75 percent of the properties in an Urban Renewal Project are blighted can the remaining non-blighted property be condemned. The new law also requires the government to prove blight by clear and convincing evidence, a significant shift away from the unthinking deference that has so long marked courts’ consideration of blight designations by municipalities. Read more