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Taking Land Around the World

International Trends in the Use of Eminent Domain

Antonio Azuela

June 2007, English

Compulsory purchase, expropriation, eminent domain, or simply “taking”, are different names for one and the same legal institution: That which allows states to acquire property against the will of its owner in order to fulfill some purpose of general interest. Traditionally, expropriation has been considered one of the main instruments of land policy. However, nowadays it is subject to a number of criticisms and mounting social resistance. Campaigns for housing rights, movements for the defense of property rights, legislative and judiciary activism, and land tenure reforms, among other factors, are changing the conditions under which governments exercise their power of eminent domain.

This paper is the result of a first exploration to recent worldwide trends regarding the law and policy of the compulsory acquisition of land for urban and development projects. This task faces two main obstacles. On the one hand, governments do not produce systematic information about the use they make of their power of eminent domain, even when they recognize it as an instrument of their land policies. This makes policy analysis particularly challenging. On the other hand, academic research on the subject has focused on legal issues, leaving aside other dimensions of this government practice. Thus, the accumulated knowledge on the subject has a strong disciplinary bias.