- The state led the nation in eminent domain reform with pre-Kelo legislation that completely removed eminent domain authority for blight.
- Unfortunately, the state became the first to roll back reform by re-instating a more limited blight authority and allowing a condemnation by a neighborhood majority vote.
Utah demonstrated remarkable zeal in protecting its citizens’ liberties by enacting eminent domain reform both before and after the Kelo ruling. Senate Bill 1841 (2005) removed the power of eminent domain from redevelopment agencies and has served as a model of excellent reform. Senate Bill 117 (2006) added approval and notice requirements for public use takings. The new law specified that the appropriate legislative body must vote to approve any taking of property by eminent domain, adding a layer of accountability for public officials who might otherwise be able to avoid taking responsibility if the takings power is utilized without appropriate restraint.
Unfortunately, in 2007 the Legislature passed and the governor signed House Bill 365, legislation that rolled back the state’s prior eminent domain reform. The bill allows local governments to take private property for blight and allows property owners who own a large majority of property (in size or value) to vote to force out neighbors who want to keep their homes or small businesses. That means property owners who merely want to be left alone to enjoy what is rightfully theirs are exposed to abuse.
This new law marks an unfortunate turn in the battle against the abuse of eminent domain. While eminent domain authority remains significantly restrained, it demonstrates that the beneficiaries of eminent domain abuse—local governments and developers—will not easily relinquish this powerful tool. Developers, unlike the public in general, hire well-paid lobbyists who patrol state capitals to expand their power to threaten ordinary homeowners and small businesses. The result is that Utah property owners, who once had one of the strongest protections against eminent domain abuse in the country, now risk losing their property to greedy local governments, developers, and neighbors.