(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

“Eminent Domain” gives governments the power to take over private property if it’s determined that it’s for the public good. Most laws require that the government gives the property owner “just compensation” for the trouble. But what exactly is “just?”

Not $3.5 million, the amount offered by the city of New York to an East Harlem dry cleaning operation with three locations. The lot where the business stands, according to its owner, is worth more than $11 million.

“It’s like you own a Mercedes-Benz, and someone offers to reimburse you for the price of a Hyundai Sonata,” said Damon Bae, who owns the store with other family members in this New York Daily News report. Bae also is upset the city is offering to pay about $1.4 million less than the value of the store’s fixtures as well. He says his business – which performs dry cleaning operations – is unable to afford another location given current real estate market values in the city, let alone stay in operation while new water lines are set up and permits are approved.

Bae’s family started the cleaning and tailoring business when they immigrated to the U.S. in 1981 and grew it into a successful enterprise with more than 10 locations at its height. But in 2005 the city said the area where Bae – and other businesses – operated was “blighted” and announced its intentions to bring in a developer to build an entertainment and cultural center. The developer ultimately fell victim to the 2008 recession, but New York’s mayor is continuing to move forward with plans to develop the area into housing units and commercial space.

Taxes have risen every year and the family has been embroiled in lawsuits with the city. But all of their legal defenses ran out in March and now the family business is facing eviction – and a $30,000 per month rent bill while Bae launches one last-chance effort to challenge the way the city determines its payment offers for businesses like his.

“We are being run out of business,” Bae said in the Daily News report. “The city is just squeezing us dry.” Officials from the city declined to comment on the amount offered but say they have been trying to help Bae find alternative sites for his business.



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