Ohio Passes Weak Eminent Domain Reform, Property Owners Left Unprotected

CONTACT: John Kramer; Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320
June 29, 2007

Arlington, Va.—The Ohio Legislature could have protected property owners across the state.  Instead, they passed some of the weakest eminent domain reform in the nation.

On Wednesday, June 27, the Ohio Senate passed a weakened version of Senate Bill 7.  The legislation originally offered substantial eminent domain reform to home and small business owners across the state, but the House removed all of the significant protections.  A companion measure, Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would have applied SB 7 to all local governments in Ohio, earlier failed to pass the House.  SB 7 now awaits the governor’s signature.

“There was a real chance for reform this year, but in the end, very little will change for home and small business owners in Ohio should SB 7 become law,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition, a national grassroots advocacy group committed to ending the private-to-private transfer of property using eminent domain.  The Institute for Justice successfully defended homeowners in Norwood and Lakewood, Ohio, from eminent domain abuse.  Anderson testified before last year’s Eminent Domain Task Force and committees in both the Senate and House this session.

As originally passed by the Senate, SB 7 would have better-defined blight, using objective criteria to designate a “blighted parcel” and requiring at least 90 percent of the parcels in a neighborhood be blighted for the government to forcibly obtain non-blighted ones.  The weaker reforms passed by the legislature allow a combination of subjective—and likely impermissible under the state constitution—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.  The final version of SB 7 does include better notice for property owners when their land is under threat, as well as procedural and compensation changes, but they will do little to prevent perfectly fine property from actually being taken.

“Real protections against eminent domain abuse were whittled away,” Anderson said.  “While the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled, just one year ago in Norwood v. Horney, that the right to property is fundamental, the Legislature unfortunately doesn’t share that conclusion.  I have no doubt that Ohioans will continue to make their case until their representatives finally listen.”

In all, 40 other states have passed legislation responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London decision.  For a review of those states and the effectiveness of the reforms, see the Institute for Justice’s 50 state report card, available at http://www.castletrans.wpengine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=113.