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Fighting Chance

When the government wants your land, prepare to fight for fair payment.

This story appears in the November 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In the U.S. Constitution, the right to property ranks right up there with life and liberty. The government may not deprive people of life, liberty or property without due process of law. However, the law also recognizes a legal concept called "eminent domain," which is the right of federal, state and local governments to take private property when it's needed for a public purpose. If a government agency decides to widen a road or build a fire station and needs the property your business is on, there's not much you can do to stop it. With a well-organized strategy and many hours of negotiation, however, you may be able to have the project altered enough to save your business. If not, the agency must pay you for the property. The key question, then, is how much?

The government's goal is to acquire the land for the lowest possible cost. That means paying an amount equal to an appraiser's estimate of the land value, which likely doesn't match the value of the location to your business. When you have a thriving business, it can be enormously expensive to move. You may not be able to find a suitable location nearby, and moving across town could cost you your customer base plus lost income because of the disruption.

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