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Tennessee Eminent Domain Law Explained

Few issues evoke such strong opposition as the taking of private land through eminent domain for a public use. When it comes to eminent domain, the government is playing in their arena; they do this every day. They know what the rules are, they know how the rules affect them and they know how the rules affect property owners. If the government is taking your land, make sure that you become informed so that you know what you can and cannot do.

Your initial question might be, can I stop the process? In most cases, you won’t be able to prevent the government from acquiring your land, but you are entitled to just compensation under eminent domain law. Learn more about eminent domain generally and what you’re entitled to receive, or continue reading to learn about the Tennessee eminent domain process, your rights as a property owner and hiring a Tennessee eminent domain attorney.

We are an eminent domain law firm with experience handling cases in Tennessee. We only represent property owners, never the condemning authority or government. Did you know that most eminent domain attorneys work on a contingent fee basis? With this fee structure, the attorney assumes the risk of earning a fee.

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Tennessee Eminent Domain Process

In the state of Tennessee, the eminent domain process can only be stopped if the proposed taking does not meet the requirements for public purpose or public necessity. If you have determined that the proposed taking does meet these requirements, then you should learn more about the Tennessee eminent domain process.

Remember, even if the government has the right to condemn your property, they cannot dictate the price they are willing to pay; compensation is determined by the highest and best use laws for your property.

Tennessee Property Rights

The eminent domain abuse dialogue often centers on policy issues involving the right to take property for economic development and blight. Since the landmark case of Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, many states have taken measures to help curb eminent domain abuse. Some states were very successful at passing meaningful reform, and other states failed to pass any legislation at all. Most states fall in the middle by passing legislation that looks good on paper but does little to level the playing field between property owners and the government.

Since the decision by the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London many states across the country have taken measures to help protect the rights of private ownership.  The controversial Kelo decision held that a local government can take the private property of one person and give it to another private entity.  While the Court’s ruling was seen by many as a serious blow to citizen’s constitutionally protected rights of private property, the decision prompted a number of states to initiate legislative reform to help curb eminent domain abuse.

The Castle Coalition has released a report, grading each of the states based on their efforts to protect private property owners and their rights based on changes in their respective state laws.  The Castle Coalition is the Institute for Justice’s nationwide grassroots property rights activism project that teaches home and small business owners how to protect themselves and stand up to abuse by governments and developers who seek to use eminent domain to take private property for their own gain. The Castle Coalition gave a letter grade of a D- to the state of Tennessee for property rights.

Tennessee created a state commission to study eminent domain after the 2005 landmark case, but unfortunately, the commission did not serve its purpose in helping curb eminent domain abuse. In 2006, the state legislature passed two bills, where both bills hardly symbolized improvement for the state.

House Bill 3450 (Senate Bill 3296) made slight improvements to the definition of “blight”, and also modified the state’s definition of public use to exclude economic development. Then, House Bill 3700 was passed, which removed requirements that were previously set in place that required condemning authorities to obtain approval from the governing body of the affected county prior to commencing a condemnation proceeding. Unfortunately, House Bill 3700 symbolized a major regression for the state in concerns of eminent domain.

Hiring an Eminent Domain Attorney in Tennessee

As you are likely aware, taking matters into your own hands when it comes to eminent domain is highly discouraged. You could ruin a good claim by attempting to negotiate with the condemning authority without knowing the full extent of your damages. Or, you could settle for much less than what you are entitled to receive. Don’t be surprised if you’re unable to assess the damages in your case; no one expects you to be an expert on land valuation in eminent domain cases. In fact, the government is counting on this.

Most eminent domain attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. With this fee structure, the attorney assumes the risk for earning a fee. Property owners are generally only responsible for paying costs, with the primary cost being the appraiser who values the property. Because of the contingent fee structure, most eminent domain attorneys will conduct a free case evaluation for property owners prior to recommending representation.

You are entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and costs in eminent domain cases if the condemning authority abandons the proceeding, or if the court rules that the property cannot be acquired through eminent domain (Tenn. Code Ann. 29-17-106).

If you prevail in an inverse condemnation case, you are also entitled to recover from the government or condemning authority your attorney fees and costs actually incurred because of the proceeding (Tenn. Code Ann. 29-16-123, Tenn. Code Ann. 29-16-124).

If you’re affected by eminent domain, you should obtain a consultation so that you know and understand your rights before taking any action. Remember, the government is like any buyer, they will want to purchase your property as cheaply as possible, and their appraisers may neglect to consider damages that can lead to a larger amount of just compensation.

Very few attorneys can claim expertise in the area of eminent domain law. Make sure you consult with an eminent domain trial attorney who can effectively identify damages and select the necessary experts. Your attorney should also be able to properly interface with the condemning authority and be willing to take your case to trial if negotiations can not be reached. 


The state of Tennessee has seen very little reform since Kelo v. City of New London, despite a few legislative bills being passed and an eminent domain commission put in place. Property owners in Tennessee are still vulnerable to eminent domain abuse because the state’s definition of blight is vague, and condemning authorities have more freedom when it comes to commencing eminent domain proceedings and the process in which that takes place.

In order to see full protection, the state needs a commission in place that will push for legislation that will tighten the state’s definition of blight and also reinforce notification rules for condemning authorities to abide by when condemning private property. Click to read more information on House Bill 3450 (Senate Bill 3296), and to read more on House Bill 3700.

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Questions about Tennessee Eminent Domain Law or if you’re interested in a free consultation, contact us today! If you want to call us, our main number is 866-339-7242. We look forward to hearing from you.