If a government entity has targeted a piece of property for landmark status, it can raise several legal issues. This is because the property will usually be “appropriated” or taken over by the government. This can have serious consequences on ownership of title, as well as the manner in which the land will be used. Some common legal issues that arise when property becomes a landmark include:
- Condemnation or eminent domain: Principles of condemnation and eminent domain imply that the property will be subject to a legal seizure by the government. Sometimes property must be destroyed in order to make way for public use of the land. Property owners would then be entitled to just compensation for the seizure or transfer of title
- Just compensation: If the government must seize or take land for public use because it will become a landmark, the owner of the property is entitled to just compensation. This is monetary reimbursement as calculated by the fair market values associated with such land
- Transfer of title: Oftentimes property that becomes a landmark will result in a transfer of title from a private owner to the government. Again, the property owner must be fairly compensated.
A common property dispute occurs when a property owner is engaged in construction projects on land that will soon be declared a landmark. For instance, the property owner may have begun building a home on their land. During the construction process, they receive notice that the land will be designated as a landmark. In such cases, the government will perform a balancing test to determine whether the public use will outweigh the burden on the property owner. If it is deemed that the public use is more necessary than the property owner's projects, the buildings will usually be demolished and the owner will be compensated for the losses related to the demolished buildings.
On the other hand, if the property owner’s interests outweigh the government’s interest in public usage, the property owner may be allowed to continue their construction projects. However, this will usually only occur if the government is able to secure a different plot of land that serves the same public interests.
In most property disputes involving landmark issues, many property owners are willing to have their property demolished and so they choose to receive compensation for the construction projects. This is especially true if the land where the buildings are situation on is unique and cannot be substituted by a different plot of land. Regardless of the final decision, the conferring of landmark status is usually done on a case-by-case basis, since every piece of property is unique, and eminent domain laws may vary from state to state.
- The type of public use that the land will be used for
- The value and history of buildings that must be destroyed
- Whether the project is just beginning or is close to completion
- Whether the property owner is interested in receiving monetary compensation for the buildings