Property Rights

Guide to Property Rights and Laws in the United States

What can I do if someone enters my property without my permission?

Generally this would be considered trespass, and you can sue the trespasser, or possibly press criminal charges against them.

Can the city tell me what I can and can’t do with my property?

Yes, through “zoning” and land use laws and the building code.1Euclid v. Ambler

Can the government seize my property for any reason?

The government generally may take private property for “public use,” which has been interpreted quite broadly by the courts.2Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) This governmental power is called “eminent domain.”3California specifically provides for this power starting at Cal Code Civ Proc § 1230.030

However, the government must provide “just compensation” for such takings. In the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it specifically says “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Generally the compensation required is “fair market value.”

It is also considered a “partial taking” of property where the government requires an owner to suffer a permanent physical invasion of the property, however minor. This also applies where the government authorizes a private third party to do so. For example, where the government tells a cable company they are allowed to place cables on private property despite the property owner’s objection, the owner must be compensated for this.4Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp., 458 U.S. 419 (1982)

Can the government place significant regulations on my property?

Yes, but if the regulations completely deprive an owner of “all economically beneficial use” of the property, this is considered essentially the same as physically “taking” the property, and the government would then be required to provide “just compensation.” 5Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992)

Related Pages

Can the Government Do That?


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