Wisconsin

  • New eminent domain law prevents bogus “blight” designations for residential properties only.
50 State Report Card 50 State Report Card Grade

50 State Report Card: Tracking Eminent Domain Reform Legislation since Kelo

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Current Abuses Bills
Assembly Bill 657
Sponsored by: State Representative Mary Williams
Status: Signed into law on March 30, 2006.

Overview

The state of Wisconsin made some significant improvements to its eminent domain laws by enacting Assembly Bill 657 in 2006. Wisconsin’s new legislation prohibits the government from designating large areas as “blighted” based on the condition of a small number of properties within that area. The bill provides some increased protection for residential properties by adding new factors to the legal definition of blight. Specifically, the law requires that residential property be “abandoned” or converted from single to multiple units and be in a high-crime area in order for it to be designated “blighted.” In addition, the bill contains a vital protection—the requirement that each specific residential property be blighted before it can be acquired and transferred to a private entity. These changes to the law make it significantly more difficult for governments to target residential property for private profit, though other types of property, like small businesses and farms, remain vulnerable. As the law currently stands for owners of these non-residential properties, blight designations may still be based on subjective and vague terms like “obsolescence” and “faulty lot layout.”

This law is a significant step forward, but the Wisconsin State Legislature should make a point of addressing the remaining problems in future sessions. A top priority should be replacing the subjective terms in the state’s blight definition with objective factors that can be conclusively demonstrated, so that property owners can take specific action to maintain their properties in such a way that they cannot be threatened with condemnation. Furthermore, the Legislature needs to extend the same protections it has afforded residential property owners to all of the state’s citizens.