Expropriation involves taking or depriving a property owner of his or her legal rights to a piece of real estate or some other type of property. Generally, expropriation occurs when a government confiscates a person’s land for use by the general public. For example, if the government is building a highway system that runs through a person’s land, the government may decide to confiscate the land in order to complete the highway. In most countries, the government would give the property owner a reasonable fee for taking the land. In modern times, many countries use the term expropriation interchangeably with eminent domain, compulsory purchase, and compulsory acquisition.
The concept of expropriation stems from Marxism, which espouses the idea that the government should be responsible for major industries and large properties. The thought process behind taking privately-owned land was to promote a society with members of equal social status by preventing a few individuals from owning all of the land. Under traditional Marxist theories, expropriation was to occur without paying property owners for confiscated land.
Even in current times, some governments do not pay private citizens anything for expropriated property. Most governments, however, provide a property owner with reasonable compensation for taking the owner’s land. For instance, in the United States, Canada, and France, laws require the government to pay fair compensation when expropriating property. England, Germany, and Australia also mandate the payment of just compensation for expropriated land.
An expropriation payment is intended to make the owner whole, despite the loss of his or her land. In some countries, the property owner has the right to ask for additional compensation for the land if he or she feels the government did not pay a fair settlement. An administrative committee, negotiation board, or court typically resolves disputes relating to land payments. As a general rule, countries are limited to confiscating property that lies within their borders.
In addition to building roads, government authorities often confiscate land to build schools, public utilities, railroads, or public buildings. While real property expropriation is one of the most common types of expropriation, government authorities may also confiscate other things. For instance, a government may decide to confiscate a franchise agreement. Governments may also take land that is a public hazard in order to ensure public safety is maintained. A government may use confiscated land for itself or permit a third party to use it in order to further a public use.