There are certain instances when state or local municipalities can take control of private property. Some common situations when a seizure of property can occur include:

  • Condemned Property: This is where the government takes control of the land to convert it for public use. It also includes instances where government regulation has rendered a plot of land economically useless. Also called a "taking."
  • Judicial Lien: Governments can sometimes take hold to the title of land or property under a lien. This is common in cases involving foreclosure resulting in judicial sale of property.
  • Tax Seizure: Title to land can also be lost due to a failure to pay taxes.
  • Seizure for Private Economic Development: Property can sometimes be seized for the purpose of assisting in certain private development projects.
  • Civil forfeiture: Government seizes property if the property is involved with the commission of a crime. Since the property, not the property owner, is being sued, none of the rights regarding just compensation, due process, or punishments are triggered.

Except for civil forfeiture, whenever the government initiates a taking (such as in a condemnation or private taking), they need to provide just compensation to the land owner. In instances of liens and tax seizures, the property is often sold through an auction.

Can I Contest a Government Seizure of My Property?

In some cases, resisting condemnation of property by the government is often possible. For instance, the plaintiff might seek to show that the condemnation of the property is unjust, or violates the law in some way. This can happen for instance if the new use would result in some gross injustice or would violate public policy in some way.

In such cases, the remedy usually involves an injunction. This is a court order requiring a termination of the project, and a reversion of the land back to the private owner. Or, just compensation may be issued in the form of monetary compensation for the taking of the property.

For liens and tax-related seizures, it can be a bit difficult to contest, especially if the lien is the result of a clear ruling. Many times, a ruling can be challenged if there was some error in the lower court. Or, challenges might be based on some aspect of the title deed, which can be clarified through a quiet title proceeding. These will all depend on the exact facts involved in the individual case.

In civil forfeiture proceedings, the government must show that probable cause exists to believe the property is involved in a crime. The owner must then show that the property was not used for an illegal purpose or that the owner was not involved in such illegal activities. The difficulty for property owners is that they prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which may be difficult if the police are confiscating evidence and preventing the owner from entering the "crime scene."

Do I Need a Lawyer If the Government Seized My Property?

Government takings and seizures can often involve very broad legal issues that can affect an entire community. You may need to hire a qualified property lawyer if you have any issues involving government and property. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and can help you file a claim in court if you need to.