Wisconsin Increases Protection for Homes and

Blight Definition, However, Needs Work

PRESS RELEASE: March 31, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—Yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed into law Wisconsin Assembly Bill 657, legislation that prohibits the government from condemning non-blighted private property for private use.  It also requires a property to be blighted in order to be condemned instead of allowing large areas to be taken if some of the properties are blighted.  The bill provides 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.”  Further, the bill contains a vital protection—the requirement that each specific property be blighted in order for it to be acquired and transferred to a private entity.

“We applaud the Legislature for giving homeowners in Wisconsin increased protection against eminent domain abuse,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, who represents the plaintiffs in the now-infamous Kelo v. City of New London eminent domain case.  “The ability of the government to acquire residential property for private profit just got tougher, though other types of property, like small businesses and farms, remain less protected.”

Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at IJ who argued Kelo before the U.S. Supreme Court, emphasized, “This is a major piece of legislation, but the criteria used to designate property, especially non-residential, as ‘blighted’ certainly needs to be tightened.  Blight should be based on objective factors, not subjective and vague terms like ‘obsolescence’ and ‘faulty lot layout.’”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court permitted the use of eminent domain for economic development in its Kelo decision last summer, legislators in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation aiming to curb the abuse of eminent domain.  Wisconsin joins South Dakota, Indiana and Idaho as the latest to enact reforms.

“This law is a significant step forward—ordinary homes and small businesses cannot be condemned for private development just because so-called ‘blighted’ properties are nearby,” Berliner said.  She authored the first-ever comprehensive study on eminent domain abuse nationwide, in which she documented more than 10,000 threatened or filed condemnations for private use in just five years.  “To say that individual properties must be ‘blighted’ in order for the government to condemn them is a big win for Wisconsin.”

Steven Anderson, coordinator of the Castle Coalition, said, “This is a positive move toward complete eminent domain reform in Wisconsin.  Next session, lawmakers will need to remove the vague criteria that are used to define blight and extend these protections not just to homeowners, but also to every citizen.  I’m confident lawmakers will respond to the overwhelming public outcry by protecting everyone against the government’s wrecking ball.”

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