Work continues on the redevelopment of downtown Sandy Springs, where the city recently authorized eminent domain action to acquire land identified for parking. BRANDEN CAMP / For the AJC

When can the government tear down your house?

Sure, Atlanta is a good place to live (provided you can afford it). However, you should be aware of what can happen when buying or building a new home. The last thing any new homeowner wants is the government taking the property for an eminent domain project. Here's when the state can use that power.

How does eminent domain work in Georgia?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can place restrictions on their ability to use eminent domain, and that's just what Georgia has done. The state's constitution was amended in 2006 to require that if eminent domain is used for redevelopment purposes, it must be for public use.

The state legislature also enacted a Landowner's Bill of Rights, which requires the entity exercising the power of eminent domain to notify landowners in writing in advance of filing a petition and further defines "public use" as specifically for roads or government use. In addition, landowners must be given a copy of their rights.

Each city, county or other governmental entity – such as the city of Atlanta - may also have specific rules that govern how they use eminent domain.

Who can exercise the power of eminent domain?

This power can be exercised not only by the federal government and each state, but also by local governments. Quasi-government groups – including power companies and hospital and stadium authorities – also have this power, Garvis Sams, an attorney who handles eminent domain cases with Sams, Larkin, Huff & Balli, pointed out.

How often is eminent domain used?

"Well, I've made my living off of it. I don't do any other kind of law," said Charles Ruffin, an attorney who's a shareholder in Baker Donelson.

Since Georgia is growing, there's a need for more roads, schools, court houses and other types of public projects, he said, and this drives the use of eminent domain.

However, although the use of eminent domain is still fairly common, it's not used as much as it used to be, Sams said. Government entities don't want to seem as though the land is being used for a private purpose, he said.

"They're being a lot more selective and careful," he added.

What kind of projects has eminent domain been used for in Georgia?

It's been used for projects including parking for the Sandy Springs City Centera bridge over Interstate 285 to SunTrust Parka road project related to SunTrust Parkthe Atlanta Beltline, and two interstate energy pipelines.

Can landowners challenge the taking of their property?

Yes. One recourse is to challenge the taking on the grounds that it's not for a public purpose but instead will benefit a private entity, Ruffin said.

Landowners can also disagree with the compensation that's being offered, arguing that it's not just, he said.

In some cases, however, it's not worth a prolonged fight if what the government is offering is close to what the landowner will accept.

"Sometimes the best advice is to settle," Ruffin said.

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