Utah Guts Eminent Domain Reform; First State to Reduce Protection for Property Owners Since Kelo

PRESS RELEASE: March 21, 2007

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—Yesterday, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman signed House Bill 365, a bill that rolled back the state’s prior eminent domain reform passed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London.  The legislation, which passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House, allows local governments to take private property for another private party’s gain.  Worse yet, it allows property owners to vote their neighbor out of their home or business, thereby imposing a tyranny of the majority.

“This bill is bad for Utah property owners, who once had one of the strongest protections against eminent domain abuse in the country,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, which helps homeowners nationwide fight the use of eminent domain for private development.  The Castle Coalition is a grassroots organization coordinated by the Institute for Justice, which litigated the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago.  “Local governments will no doubt be emboldened by the legislation to take property from one person and transfer it to someone else.  This is a sad day for anyone who owns a piece of property in Utah.”

Utah once had one of the most comprehensive laws in the nation against the abuse of eminent domain.  Under Utah’s 2005 Senate Bill 184, local governments were not allowed to acquire property in so-called “blighted” areas for private redevelopment.  In most states, the definition of “blight” is so vague that nearly any well-maintained property could be declared “blighted,” thereby clearing the way for the government to take it.  House Bill 365 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,” Anderson continued.  “It shows that the beneficiaries of eminent domain abuse—local governments and developers—will not sleep until their power, called ‘despotic’ by the U.S. Supreme Court centuries ago, is restored.  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.  Your right to own your home or farm or small business in Utah should not be placed at risk because developers and local governments wield more political power.  Tragically, Utah property owners are now at risk.”

Kelo educated the public on the horrors of eminent domain abuse so citizens around the country realize when their rights and their property are threatened,” Anderson said.  “We expect this loss of rights in Utah will spark yet another popular backlash against eminent domain abuse.”