Just Compensation for Escondido "Bomb House"?

In case you missed it, in the news last month was a big story about the San Diego County Sheriff's Department torching a residence in Escondido as the only safe way to destroy a giant cache of explosives found in the house.  The house was burned to ashes in an effort to destroy the extremely volatile chemical compounds which could detonate at any second.  The house has since been dubbed, simply, the "Bomb House."

So what does this have to do with eminent domain?  Interestingly, the individual responsible for the explosives was a renter (who is now in jail), and the property owner -- who had no idea about the explosives -- is seeking just compensation.  According to an article in this week's North County Times, "ESCONDIDO: No easy answer in 'bomb house' compensation," the owner has filed a $500,000 claim against the County, which in response has denied the claim, insisting it is not liable since it acted to "protect public health and safety."

While one would initially think that the owner is entitled to compensation pursuant to the Fifth Amendment (providing that private property cannot be taken without just compensation), there are some exceptions.  For example, government agencies are allowed to exercise the police power to take necessary measures to eliminate threats to public safety.  In the land use context, you'll sometimes see this take place as homes are tagged as nuisances or safety hazards.

The owner will now likely file an inverse condemnation lawsuit against the County.  How will he fare?  It's not entirely clear.   My guess is that this will likely come down to whether the government acted reasonably in exercising its police powers.  Stay tuned.

  • Bradford B. Kuhn
    Partner

    Brad Kuhn, Chair of Nossaman's Eminent Domain & Valuation Group, guides property owners, developers, businesses, utilities, and public agencies through complex real estate development and infrastructure projects – ...

California Eminent Domain Report is a one-stop resource for everything new and noteworthy in eminent domain in California. We cover all aspects of eminent domain in California, including condemnation, inverse condemnation, and regulatory takings. We also keep track of current cases, project announcements, budget issues, legislative reform efforts, and report on all major California eminent domain conferences and seminars.

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