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What is Public Property?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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Public property is property and real estate that is owned by a government, generally a government chosen by the people. The concept is that the government is made up of the people, and that therefore the people own the property that is entrusted to the government for care. This does not necessarily mean that the property is available for public use or access, however — it simply recognizes that the property was bought and likely maintained with taxpayer dollars.

There are many cases where public property is available for use by the general public. A couple of prime examples are libraries and parks, in which the property owned by the library in the form of books, audio equipment, and visuals can often be used by the public and many times be borrowed for a certain period of time. Parks are another form that serves a public purpose by enhancing the quality of life for area residents and visitors.

Those in charge of these properties often must answer to a governing board, such as a city council, county commission, or state board. These governing bodies may be elected or appointed, depending on the situation. Their main job or priority is simply to make sure the property is being maintained for its original use, and that it is open to the public on an acceptable schedule. In other words, they are supposed to look out for the public's interests.

There are times when certain types of public property is not available for public use. This is especially true when it comes to issues where national security may be at stake. For example, while a space shuttle under the direction of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) may have been paid for with public funds, the public generally does not have direct access to it. This is because the nature of the equipment is very sensitive, and a larger public purpose is served by restricting access to specific individuals.

Along the same lines, access to military bases is often restricted not only for reasons of national security, but also the safety of the general public. If the public were able to use military bases as their own property, then serious disruptions in operations could take place, and there would be a chance for the situation to become unsafe. That is why such property must sometimes have restrictions on who can use it and when.

If public property is sold, it may have to go through a number of different steps before the sale is completed. First, it may need to be announced that the property could be sold, which gives the public the chance to comment on the issue. Second, the property may require a bid. This is often the case, for example, with government surplus vehicles. The highest bidder generally receives the property.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1007173 — On Jun 11, 2022

The article is incomplete. The courts have said that even a park or street has limits on what can be done even if they are basically a town square,

Other publicly owned property may be public but limited to the business at hand. A Post Office that sells stamps is an example. You may conduct business but not have a political rally.

And while NASA is off limits for security reasons, the offices of public figures are open by invitation only, regardless of whether the public paid for the office and the holder's salary.

So while we have the First Amendment, we also have the Sovereign's right to be able to conduct their governance.

By mutsy — On Jan 24, 2011

Suntan12 - There was another case in the New England area in which the state was forcing a homeowner to sell his property because they had plans to develop the area.

The man refused because he said that his home was in his family for years and did not want to sell. The law is really scary and it is unbelievable that something like this could happen in our society.

By suntan12 — On Jan 24, 2011

Brickback - I heard about a case not too long ago that related to eminent domain. This case was in the state of New Jersey and the state was forcing to seize multiple acres of land that a man owned because the state wanted to develop that land themselves even though the land was private property.

The owner refused to use the developers that the state wanted and the state threatened to seize his land. This is outrageous that a municipality can actually attempt to seize private property like that.

It raised a lot of questions in how far cans the government actually go to take private property for public use.

By BrickBack — On Jan 21, 2011

Cupcake15 - Usually the property records will indicate the millage rate for the property. The millage rate is the rate at which your home is taxed.In many communities in South Florida, the millage rate ranges from 1.8% to 2.5% of the value of your home.

There is a lot of controversy regarding the high rates of taxation regarding private properties. The reason is that many municipalities are in dire need of money and therefore raise property taxes in order to fund public property like schools and libraries.

By cupcake15 — On Jan 20, 2011

Property records are available through the county’s clerk of court website. This is a public record that gives you information on the tax history of the property along with past and current sales of the property.

It will also offer information regarding the size of the home and who the current owners are. Homeowners in the community have to pay a public property tax in order to support the public schools and fire department and police force if applicable.

These taxes are levied as a property tax on the property that you own. If you fail to pay your property taxes the state can put a lien against your property which means that you cannot sell the property without paying your back taxes.

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