Wisconsin Eminent Domain laws


In Wisconsin, the following departments, municipalities, boards, commissions, public officers and corporations may acquire by condemnation any real estate and personal property appurtenant thereto or interest therein which they have power to acquire and hold or transfer to the state, for the purposes specified, in case such property cannot be acquired by gift or purchased at an agreed price:

  • Any county, town, village, city, including villages and cities incorporated under general or special acts, school district, the department of health services, the department of corrections, the board of regents of the University of Wisconsin System, the building commission, a commission created by contract under s. 66.0301, with the approval of the municipality in which condemnation is proposed, or any public board or commission, for any lawful purpose, but in the case of city and village boards or commissions approval of that action is required to be granted by the governing body. A mosquito control commission, created under s. 59.70 (12), and a local professional football stadium district board, created under subch. IV of ch. 229, may not acquire property by condemnation.
  • The governor and adjutant general for land adjacent to the Wisconsin state military reservation at Camp Douglas for the use of the Wisconsin national guard.
  • Any railroad corporation, any grantee of a permit to construct a dam to develop hydroelectric energy for sale to the public, any Wisconsin plank or turnpike road corporation, any drainage corporation, any interstate bridge corporation, or any corporation formed under chapter 288, laws of 1899, for any public purpose authorized by its articles of incorporation.
  • Any Wisconsin telegraph or telecommunications corporation for the construction and location of its lines.  Any Wisconsin corporation engaged in the business of transmitting or furnishing heat, power or electric light for the public or any foreign transmission provider for the construction and location of its lines or for ponds or reservoirs or any dam, dam site, flowage rights or undeveloped water power.
  • Any Wisconsin corporation furnishing gas, electric light or power to the public, for additions or extensions to its plant and for the purpose of conducting tests or studies to determine the suitability of a site for the placement of a facility.
  • Any Wisconsin corporation formed for the improvement of any stream and driving logs therein, for the purpose of the improvement of such stream, or for ponds or reservoir purposes.
  • Any Wisconsin corporation organized to furnish water or light to any city, village or town or the inhabitants thereof, for the construction and maintenance of its plant.
  • Any Wisconsin corporation transmitting gas, oil or related products in pipelines for sale to the public directly or for sale to one or more other corporations furnishing such gas, oil or related products to the public.
  • Any rural electric cooperative association organized under ch. 185 which operates a rural electrification project to:

Generate, distribute, or furnish at cost electric energy at retail to 500 or more members of said association in accordance with standard rules for extension of its service and facilities as provided in the bylaws of said association and whose bylaws also provide for the acceptance into membership all applicants therefor who may reside within the territory in which such association undertakes to furnish its service, without discrimination as to such applicants; or (b) Generate, transmit, and furnish electric energy at wholesale to 3 or more rural electric cooperative associations furnishing electric energy under the conditions set forth in par. (a), for the construction and location of its lines, substation or generating plants, ponds or reservoirs, any dam, dam site, flowage rights or undeveloped water power, or for additions or extension of its plant and for the purpose of conducting tests or studies to determine the suitability of a site for the placement of a facility.

  • Any housing authority created under ss. 66.1201 to 66.1211; redevelopment authority created under s. 66.1333; community development authority created under s. 66.1335; local cultural arts district created under subch. V of ch. 229, subject to s. 229.844 (4) (c); local exposition district created under subch. II of ch. 229; or transit authority created under s. 66.1039.
  • Any person operating a plant which creates waste material which, if released without treatment would cause stream pollution, for the location of treatment facilities.  This subsection does not apply to a person licensed under ch. 293.
  • Any corporation licensed to do business in Wisconsin that shall transmit oil or related products including all hydrocarbons which are in a liquid form at the temperature and pressure under which they are transported in pipelines in Wisconsin, and shall maintain terminal or product delivery facilities in Wisconsin, and shall be engaged in interstate or international commerce, subject to the approval of the public service commission upon a finding by it that the proposed real estate interests sought to be acquired are in the public interest.
  • The department of transportation for the acquisition of abandoned rail and utility property under s. 85.09.
  • The department of natural resources with the approval of the appropriate standing committees of each house of the legislature as determined by the presiding officer thereof and as authorized by law, for acquisition of lands[i].

The necessity of the taking shall be determined as follows:

  • A certificate of public convenience and necessity issued under s. 196.491 (3) shall constitute the determination of the necessity of the taking for any lands or interests described in the certificate.
  • The petitioner shall determine necessity if application is by the state or any commission, department, board or other branch of state government or by a city, village, town, county, school district, board, commission, public officer, commission created by contract under s. 66.0301, joint local water authority under s. 66.0823, transit authority created under s. 66.1039, redevelopment authority created under s. 66.1333, local exposition district created under subch. II of ch. 229, local cultural arts district created under subch. V of ch. 229, housing authority created under ss. 66.1201 to 66.1211 or for the right-of-way of a railroad up to 100 feet in width, for a telegraph, telephone or other electric line, for the right-of-way for a gas pipeline, main or service or for easements for the construction of any elevated structure or subway for railroad purposes.
  • In all other cases, the judge shall determine the necessity.
  • The determination of the public service commission of the necessity of taking any undeveloped water power site made pursuant to s. 32.03 (3) shall be conclusive[ii].

In this section, “public utility” has the meaning given under s. 196.01 (5) and includes a telecommunications carrier, as defined in s. 196.01 (8m).  Whenever the public service commission has made a finding, either with or without hearing, that it is reasonably certain it will be necessary for a public utility to acquire lands or interests therein for the purpose of the conveyance of telegraph and telephone messages, or for the production, transformation or transmission of electric energy for the public, or for right-of-way for a gas pipeline, main or service, and that such public utility is unlikely to commence construction of its facilities upon such lands within 2 years of such finding, such public utility may file its petition and proceed with condemnation as prescribed in s. 32.06 and no further determination of necessity shall be required.  When the lands to be condemned under this subsection are needed for rights-of-way for telegraph, telephone or electric lines or pipelines, it shall not be necessary that the particular parcel or parcels of land be described in the commissions finding, but it shall be sufficient that such a finding described the end points of any such lines and the general direction or course of the lines between the end points, but when the public utility files its petition under s. 32.06 it shall specifically describe therein the lands to be acquired.

Notwithstanding the completion of the condemnation proceedings and the payment of the award made under this sub chapter, the owner may continue to use the land until such time as the public utility constructs its facilities thereon.  The public service commission shall notify by certified mail any person whose ownership interest in the property was terminated by condemnation by a public utility under this chapter if all of the following occur:

  • The public utility’s legal title was obtained after May 1, 1984, solely by a condemnation award under s. 32.06.
  • The public service commission revokes a certificate of public convenience and necessity required under s. 196.491 (3) (a) 1 or finds that a state or federal agency has denied or revoked any license, permit, certificate or other requirement on which completion of the public utilitys project for which the land was condemned is contingent or that the public utility has for any other reason abandoned a project for which the condemned property was acquired.
  • The public utility within 365 days after issuance of the public service commission denial, revocation, or finding under subd. 2. has not proposed, by application to the commission, an alternative use for the property or the public service commission has denied an alternative use proposed by the public utility.

If the person is a minor or an individual adjudicated incompetent, the notice under par. (a) shall be to the special guardian appointed for him or her.  The notice under par. (a) shall state that the person or if the person is deceased, the person’s heirs, may petition the circuit court of the county in which the property is located, within 90 days after receipt of the notice, for an order to require the public utility to return the interest in the property to the petitioner.  The circuit court shall grant the petition and shall make a formal order returning the petitioner’s interest in the property.  The order shall operate to divest any title of the public utility to the property subject to the petition and to automatically discharge any lis pendens filed in relation to the condemnation of the property.  An order issued under par. (b) shall direct that:

  • The public utility return the petitioner’s ownership interest in the property.
  • The public utility remove any lien or other encumbrance that may have accrued or was assessed since acquisition by the public utility.
  • The petitioner pay to the public utility the fair market value of the property returned to the petitioner under the order, with fair market value determined under a method prescribed by the court.
  • The public utility pay its prorated share of any real estate or ad valorem taxes due on the date of the order.
  • If requested by the petitioner, the public utility pays for all costs for return of property to a reasonable topographic configuration or the condition the property was in at the time the public utility first acquired the property, as established by the court and subject to applicable land use restrictions.
  • The public utility remove from the property, at the option of the petitioner but at no expense or inconvenience to the petitioner, all buildings, equipment, and other materials placed on the property by the public utility.  In an order issued under par. (b), the court may award the petitioner court costs and reasonable attorney fees and may include in the order any other terms that it deems just and reasonable[iii].

In all matters involving the determination of just compensation in eminent domain proceedings, the following rules shall be followed:

  • The compensation so determined and the status of the property under condemnation for the purpose of determining whether severance damages exist shall be as of the date of evaluation as fixed by s. 32.05 (7) (c) or 32.06 (7).
  • As a basis for determining value, a commission in condemnation or a court may consider the price and other terms and circumstances of any good faith sale or contract to sell and purchase comparable property.  A sale or contract is comparable within the meaning of this subsection if it was made within a reasonable time before or after the date of evaluation and the property is sufficiently similar in the relevant market, with respect to situation, usability, improvements and other characteristics, to warrant a reasonable belief that it is comparable to the property being valued.
  • In determining just compensation, the property sought to be condemned shall be considered on the basis of its most advantageous use but only such use as actually affects the present market value.
  • In determining just compensation for property sought to be condemned in connection with the construction of facilities, as defined under s. 196.491 (1) (e), any increase in the market value of such property occurring after the date of evaluation but before the date upon which the lis pendens is filed under s. 32.06 (7) shall be considered and allowed to the extent it is caused by factors other than the planned facility.
  • Special benefits accruing to the property and affecting its market value because of the planned public improvement shall be considered and used to offset the value of property taken or damages under sub. (6), but in no event shall such benefits be allowed in excess of damages described under sub. (6).
  • If a depreciation in value of property results from an exercise of the police power, even though in conjunction with the taking by eminent domain, no compensation may be paid for such depreciation except as expressly allowed in subs. (5) (b) and (6) and s. 32.19.
  • In the case of a total taking, the condemnor shall pay the fair market value of the property taken and shall be liable for the items in s. 32.19 if shown to exist.
  • Any increase or decrease in the fair market value of real property prior to the date of evaluation caused by the public improvement for which such property is acquired, or by the likelihood that the property would be acquired for such improvement, other than that due to physical deterioration within the reasonable control of the owner, may not be taken into account in determining the just compensation for the property.

In the case of a partial taking of property other than an easement, the compensation to be paid by the condemnor shall be the greater of either the fair market value of the property taken as of the date of evaluation or the sum determined by deducting from the fair market value of the whole property immediately before the date of evaluation, the fair market value of the remainder immediately after the date of evaluation, assuming the completion of the public improvement and giving effect, without allowance of offset for general benefits and without restriction because of enumeration but without duplication, to the following items of loss or damage to the property where shown to exist:

(a) Loss of land including improvements and fixtures actually taken.

(b) Deprivation or restriction of existing right of access to highway from abutting land, provided that nothing herein shall operate to restrict the power of the state or any of its subdivisions or any municipality to deprive or restrict such access without compensation under any duly authorized exercise of the police power.

(c) Loss of air rights.

(d) Loss of a legal nonconforming use.

(e) Damages resulting from actual severance of land including damages resulting from severance of improvements or fixtures and proximity damage to improvements remaining on condemnees land. In determining severance damages under this paragraph, the condemnor may consider damages which may arise during construction of the public improvement, including damages from noise, dirt, temporary interference with vehicular or pedestrian access to the property and limitations on use of the property. The condemnor may also consider costs of extra travel made necessary by the public improvement based on the increased distance, after construction of the public improvement necessary, to reach any point on the property from any other point on the property.

(f) Damages to property abutting a highway right-of-way due to change of grade where accompanied by a taking of land.

(g) Cost of fencing reasonably necessary to separate land taken from remainder of condemnees land, less the amount allowed for fencing taken under par. (a), but no such damage shall be allowed where the public improvement includes fencing of right-of-way without cost to abutting lands.

(6g) In the case of the taking of an easement, the compensation to be paid by the condemnor shall be determined by deducting from the fair market value of the whole property immediately before the date of evaluation, the fair market value of the remainder immediately after the date of evaluation, assuming the completion of the public improvement and giving effect, without allowance of offset for general benefits, and without restriction because of enumeration but without duplication, to the items of loss or damage to the property enumerated in sub. (6) (a) to (g) where shown to exist.

A commission in condemnation or a court may in their respective discretion require that both condemnor and owner submit to the commission or court at a specified time in advance of the commission hearing or court trial, a statement covering the respective contentions of the parties on the following points:

  • Highest and best use of the property.
  • Applicable zoning.
  • Designation of claimed comparable lands, sale of which will be used in appraisal opinion evidence.
  • Severance damage, if any.
  • Maps and pictures to be used.
  • Costs of reproduction less depreciation and rate of depreciation used.
  • Statements of capitalization of income where used as a factor in valuation, with supporting data.
  • Separate opinion as to fair market value, including before and after value where applicable but not to exceed 3 appraisers.
  • A recitation of all damages claimed by owner.
  • Qualifications and experience of witnesses offered as experts.

A condemnation commission or a court may make regulations for the exchange of the statements referred to in sub. (8) by the parties, but only where both owner and condemnor furnish same, and for the holding of prehearing or pretrial conference between parties for the purpose of simplifying the issues at the commission hearing or court trial.

Claims for damages itemized in ss. 32.19 and 32.195 shall be filed with the condemnor carrying on the project through which condemnees or claimants’ claims arise. All such claims must be filed after the damages upon which they are based have fully materialized but not later than 2 years after the condemnor takes physical possession of the entire property acquired or such other event as determined by the department of commerce by rule.  If such claim is not allowed within 90 days after the filing thereof, the claimant has a right of action against the condemnor carrying on the project through which the claim arises. Such action shall be commenced in a court of record in the county wherein the damages occurred.  In causes of action, involving any state commission, board or other agency, excluding counties, the sum recovered by the claimant shall be paid out of any funds appropriated to such condemning agency.  Any judgment shall be appealable by either party and any amount recovered by the body against which the claim was filed, arising from costs, counterclaims, punitive damages or otherwise may be used as an offset to any amount owed by it to the claimant, or may be collected in the same manner and form as any other judgment[iv].

If any defect of title to or encumbrance upon any parcel of land is suggested upon any appeal, or if any person petitions the court in which an appeal is pending setting up a claim adverse to the title set out in said petition to said premises and to the money or any part thereof to be paid as compensation for the property so taken, the court shall thereupon determine the question so presented.  Judgment shall be entered on such determination, with costs to the prevailing party.  An appeal from such judgment may be taken as from a judgment in an action[v].

Whenever any lands or interest therein are urgently needed by any state board, or commission, or other agency of the state, and a contract for the purchase or use of the property cannot be made for a reasonable price, or for any other reason, including the unavailability of the owner or owners, the board, commission or agency may, with the approval of the governor, issue an award of damages and upon tender of the award to the owner or owners, or deposit in a court of record in the county where the lands are situated in cases where an owner is not available or tender is refused, take immediate possession of said property.  A deposit in a court of record may be made by registered mail addressed to the clerk of the court.  The governor shall determine whether or not such an award shall issue.  Appeal from said award of damages will lie as in other similar cases and all provisions of this subchapter shall govern, except as to the provision herein concerning the immediate issuance of the award tender and immediate possession[vi].

[i] Wis. Stat. § 32.02

[ii] Wis. Stat. § 32.07

[iii] Wis. Stat. § 32.075

[iv] Wis. Stat. § 32.20

[v] Wis. Stat. § 32.11

[vi] Wis. Stat. § 32.21