Tuesday in a ceremony at the State Capitol, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the Landowner’s Bill of Rights and Private Property Protection Act (HB1313), protecting private landowners in Georgia against the abuse of eminent domain.
Gov. Perdue also signed HR1306, a constitutional amendment requiring that the condemnation of property be approved by a vote of the elected governing authority of the county or city in which the property is located.
“This legislation and constitutional amendment changes the whole presumption of eminent domain from the power of government to the power of the people,” said Gov. Perdue. “It is wrong for your house, your land and your property to be held in jeopardy at the sway of a powerful government.”
House Floor Leader Rich Golick and Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour carried these measures in the House and Senate.
“I want to thank them for listening to the voice, the heart and the emotions of Georgians when we say that personal property rights are important to us,” said Gov. Perdue.
Landowner’s Bill of Rights and Private Property Protection Act (HB1313)
HB1313 requires any exercise of eminent domain by non-elected housing and development authorities be for public use. Public benefit from economic development shall not constitute a public use. HB1313 defines public use as:
- Possession, occupation or use of land by the general public or state or government entities
- Use of land for public utilities
- Opening of roads/channels of trade and travel
- Acquisition of property where title is clouded
- Acquisition of property where unanimous consent is received (friendly condemnations)
- Remedy of blight.
HB1313 defines economic development as economic activity to increase the tax revenue, tax base, or employment or to improve general economic health. Blight, or blighted property, is determined on a property by property basis, not on the basis of area and must be an urban or developed property. The property must also meet two of six dangerous conditions listed below:
- Uninhabitable, unsafe or abandoned structures
- Inadequate provision of ventilation, light air or sanitation
- Imminent harm to life or property caused by natural catastrophe where property owner has not taken reasonable efforts to remedy the problem after being notified by the relevant government agency
- Superfund site due to environmental contamination
- Repeated illegal activity on the individual property of which the property owner knew or should have known
- Maintenance of the property below code for a year after notice of the code violation.
According to HB1313, the former owner may buy back land at the condemned price or condemner must pay the former landowner additional compensation if the property fails to be put to a public use. The bill also prevents the condemning authority from condemning land for a public use only to sell that land to a private entity a short time later.
Additional notice is to be given to the landowners prior to the initiation of condemnation proceedings as required by HB1313. The bill requires the Department of Community Affairs to develop a written notice of rights form for use by all condemnors which shall include information regarding the right to contest the taking as well as a sample court motion to do so. In the case of a landowner prevailing in challenging the condemnation, the condemnors shall provide for the award of attorney’s fees. HB1313 provides for a ward of additional damages for relocation costs and lost business revenues where condemnation displaces the landowner.
Eminent Domain Constitutional Amendment (HR1306)
HR1306 requires a vote of the elected city or county governing officials to approve the condemnation of property for redevelopment purposes. The constitutional amendment also removes the power of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes other than for public purposes.
Approval of elected city or county governing bodies is required for non-elected housing and development authorities, including those housing and development authorities that possess the power of eminent domain via a local constitutional amendment.
The amendment will appear on the November 7, 2006 ballot.
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