Under the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, private property may not be taken for public use without payment of just compensation to the owners, see U.S. Const. amend. V; Pa. Const., art. I Section 10. This conversion of private property for a public purpose is interchangeably known as a “condemnation” or a “taking.” In Pennsylvania, the Eminent Domain Code, 26 Pa.C.S. Section 101 et seq., provides “a complete and exclusive procedure and law to govern all condemnations.” This includes de jure condemnations initiated by condemning bodies in compliance with statutory requirements, as well as de facto condemnations, initiated by property owners when entities cloaked with eminent domain powers substantially deprive them of the beneficial use and enjoyment of their properties without initiating and following the procedures set forth under the Eminent Domain Code.

Under the Eminent Domain Code, a property owner asserting that a de facto taking of property has occurred is authorized to bring an “inverse condemnation” action against the condemnor in order to receive adequate compensation for the loss. Generally, courts considering an allegation that a de facto taking occurred place a heavy burden on the property owner to show that:

  • The condemnor had the power to condemn the land under eminent domain procedures;
  • The property owner was substantially deprived of the use and enjoyment of the property through exceptional circumstances; and
  • The damages sustained were an immediate, necessary, and unavoidable consequence of the condemnor’s exercise of its eminent domain power.