- The state passed a temporary moratorium on economic development takings and created a task force, but the result was weak eminent domain reform.
- The legislature needs to pass a statewide definition limiting blight to codify the state supreme court’s Norwood v. Horney decision.
Thanks to extraordinarily permissive laws, eminent domain abuse in Ohio has been widespread in recent years. Since the U.S. Supreme Court delivered the Kelo decision, Ohio has seen some major changes to its eminent domain laws—but the state legislature can claim precious little responsibility for these changes.
On July 26, 2006, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Norwood v. Horney that the Ohio Constitution does not permit eminent domain to be used solely for economic development, that Ohio courts must apply “heightened scrutiny” when reviewing governmental uses of eminent domain, and that cities could not constitutionally condemn non-blighted properties based on the idea that they might eventually become blighted. The Ohio Supreme Court’s holdings represent a dramatic improvement in the legal protections for home and business owners in the state.
The Ohio General Assembly commissioned a Legislative Task Force to study the use of eminent domain in the state, and imposed a statewide moratorium on taking properties in non-blighted areas when the primary purpose is economic development a (which expired on December 31, 2006).
In response to the Task Force findings, the 2007 General Assembly passed Senate Bill 7. Although the new law provides better notice for property owners when their land is under threat, and procedural and compensation changes, SB 7 will not stop eminent domain abuse. Ohio’s eminent domain law continues to allow a combination of subjective factors (such as age and obsolescence, dilapidation and deterioration, excessive density, faulty lot or street layout) to be used by condemning authorities to take property for private gain. Additionally, only seventy percent of homes must qualify under this ambiguous and expansive definition for an entire neighborhood to be condemned.
Now that the Ohio Supreme Court has emphatically articulated constitutional limits to the use of eminent domain in Ohio and instructed courts to carefully scrutinize local governments’ efforts to condemn the homes and businesses of their citizens, the Ohio General Assembly’s job is simplified considerably. In order to ensure that Ohioans no longer have to fear becoming the target of eminent domain abuse, and in the event the removal of blight remains a permissible reason to use eminent domain, the legislature needs a statewide definition of blight so that the term is given clear and limited meaning, as well as a constitutional amendment to give it effect in home-rule cities. Furthermore, blight designations need to be on a parcel-by-parcel basis, rather than threatening entire neighborhoods based on the condition of a few ill-kept houses.