“Eminent Good Sense?:” Using Eminent Domain to Curtail Demolition by Neglect

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Fifth Amendment
vacant properties
preservation law
Historic Preservation and Conservation
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Scott, Sarah McHale

Demolition by neglect is a significant concern in many communities with historically-, architecturally-, and culturally-significant buildings; however, it is challenging to prevent and even more challenging to stop once it has begun. An unlikely, but promising, alternative tool to curtail demolition by neglect is eminent domain, government’s authority to take private property for public use. This thesis examines the legal justifications for using eminent domain to stop the destructive practice of historic property abandonment and analyzes its effectiveness in promoting the rehabilitation and reuse of these properties. A key component of this study is the examination of case studies in which local governments condemned vacant and abandoned historic properties to effectuate a transfer of ownership. These case studies demonstrate that condemnation is a legal, effective strategy to stop demolition by neglect for two main reasons: first, state enabling legislation and municipal codes can be written to allow government to condemn neglected historic properties; second, courts consistently defer to local governments to make decisions about how to use eminent domain to best serve their community. While eminent domain is not a silver bullet to reduce all instances of demolition by neglect, it can be an appropriate tool in certain situations.

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Suggested Citation: Scott, Sarah McHale (2019). “Eminent Good Sense?:” Using Eminent Domain to Curtail Demolition by Neglect (Masters Thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
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