Under the eminent domain law, personal property, inventory, and equipment not affixed to the realty being condemned (e.g., a computer, furniture, clothing, cooking tools, or small appliances) is usually not compensable since the personal property has not been “taken” or damaged by the condemnation process itself. This is because the personal property’s owner has a duty to mitigate his or her damages by relocating any movable personal property that is not site-specific. Whether an item is site-specific depends on whether the item was designed in a way that fits or makes it useful only on the parcel being acquired. The only other way for a constitutional “taking” to occur is where the option of relocating the personal property was not, for whatever reason, available to the owner.
Where the personal property is deemed compensable because its loss or damage was caused by the taking, the owner is generally only entitled to the property’s wholesale value. However, where the personal property is unique and not readily replaceable, the owner may be entitled to its retail value.
Note that, even where the owner receives no compensation for personal property on the property being condemned, he or she may be entitled to the costs to pack, crate, move, store, unpack and uncrate it under California’s Relocation Assistance Act (Gov. Code §§ 7260 et seq.) or the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 4601-4655). And sometimes, the costs of moving the personal property actually end up exceeding the property’s value.