Utilizing the Power of Eminent Domain to Stop a Nuisance

According to an article published in Newsday, the Hempstead Town Board has taken the first step to seize a shuttered West Hempstead motel through eminent domain to stop activities that it says make it a nuisance, a tactic a legal expert called “unusual.”

The town board scheduled a hearing for December 5 to condemn the Capri Motor Inn on Hempstead Turnpike.

The board resolution, adopted at its October 3 meeting without discussion, alleges that the town has “received complaints, and this board has taken testimony that evidence prostitution, narcotics activity, and other criminal elements at the Capri, resulting in numerous police responses and arrests.”

The town shut the motel in August, citing safety violation.

Alleged violations include a rusty staircase and problems with the fire alarm system and with electrical wiring, according to court filings, which also noted that a woman had been arrested for alleged prostitution at the motel on July 24.

The resolution alleges that these conditions pose a threat to the health and safety of residents.

Town spokesman, Greg Blower, said Monday the motel remains closed.

The use of eminent domain to respond to a nuisance is “unusual,” according to Stefan Krieger, a law professor at Hofstra University’s Maurice A Deane School of Law.

One of the necessary requirements for the use of the power of eminent domain is that there be a public purpose.  Here, it seems that the eminent domain is to stop a nuisance.  We can see the proposed taking as being challenged as an exercise of the Town’s police power.  But, the New York State Constitution limitation of the exercise of eminent domain “for public use” is broadly defined as compassing virtually any project that can confer upon the public a benefit utility or advantage.  W. 41st  St. Realty, LLC v New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 298 AD2d 1, 6 (1st Dept 2002).  The W. 41st St. Realty, LLC case was a challenge to the 42nd Street Development Project which had as its announced aim, the removal of pornography theatres from Times Square.  Condemnors have broad power in their determination of what is a public purpose.

At the present time, it appears that the motel has been shut down by the police and fire departments.  The owner has claimed that it has been denied due process and suffered damages.

If the property is condemned, the owner can file a claim for damages based on the property’s highest and best use for its constitutionally guaranteed just compensation.

Posted in Condemnation, Eminent Domain, Just Compensation, Nuisance, Police Power
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