Inverse condemnation is a potentially powerful kind of litigation ju jitsu move that property owners can use in certain situations to call the government to account when it damages their property by an official act or omission. Most everyone has some familiarity with eminent domain, also known as condemnation or a governmental taking. Where private property has been taken or damaged for some public project or purpose, the government is required by the Constitution to pay the owner for the loss in the property’s value. Sometimes the government takes an action that may damage private property and doesn’t see that it has taken anything that triggers the property owner’s right to compensation. This is where inverse condemnation comes in, acting as a kind of condemnation proceeding in reverse. When the government fails or refuses to commence an eminent domain proceeding, many states, including Minnesota, allow a property owner to bring a lawsuit asking the court to order the government to bring a condemnation proceeding to determine damages to an owner’s property. Attorneys’ fees are often awardable to the property owner in inverse condemnation actions and mandatory in Minnesota if the property owner wins.
Some recent creative examples of the use of inverse condemnation to force an eminent domain proceeding include those for damages caused by the California wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes and the Flint, Michigan water crisis. In Flint, a supposedly cheaper new water supply for the city not only endangered human health, but also caused damage to properties when the corrosive water destroyed plumbing and stigmatized the properties as having contaminated water.
Follow this link if you are interested in learning more about how inverse condemnation might apply to a situation that you may be facing as a property owner.