Why Hire an Eminent Domain Attorney?
Taking private property for public use is one of the most powerful government actions under the constitution. The exercise of this power is commonly known as condemnation. The power itself is referred to as the eminent domain power. Eminent domain can occur at the federal, state, and local levels of government.
If you are notified that your home, land, or property will be condemned for a public use, you will likely have many questions that need answers. That is when you may wish to consult with an eminent domain attorney; someone who is experienced in eminent domain law and can give you legal guidance and advice on how you may wish to proceed.
The Process of Taking Property
During the planning stages of a new sewer line, highway, or other public infrastructure project, the government will determine what private parcels of land are needed for construction. The government’s appraisers will than determine the value of the parcels so that purchase offers can be made.
If you are unhappy with the government’s offer, but cannot negotiate an acceptable price, the matter will likely go to a formal condemnation proceeding. During this process, you can still try to resolve the matter, but in cases where no agreement can be reached, the compensation may be ultimately decided by a judge, a jury, or an independent body depending upon the jurisdiction. Some property owners may even challenge the validity of the government’s proposed taking on specific grounds.
Why Hire an Eminent Domain Attorney?
The importance of hiring an eminent domain attorney cannot be overstated. Below are some of the ways an eminent domain attorney can help you:
Provide expert guidance.
Eminent domain cases are complex. They are governed by specific procedural and substantive laws that take years to understand and master. The government will already have experienced eminent domain lawyers working for it to make sure your property can be taken. Without your own equally qualified and experienced eminent domain attorney, you will be at a serious disadvantage.
Helps you understand your legal rights.
When your property is subject to being taken from you without your consent, the questions you may have are endless. What if you refuse the offer given by the government? Can it immediately file a condemnation action against you and make you appear in court? And under what circumstances do you have a right to challenge the taking of your property?
You probably have heard you have a right to receive “just compensation” for your property. But how much is a fair amount? And while you may agree with the compensation being offered by the government for the property being taken from you, what if the taking causes significant damages to your remaining property? Are you entitled to those damages as well?
A knowledgeable and experienced eminent domain attorney will help you understand all of your legal rights.
Helps you get fair compensation.
Government bodies are incentivized to obtain your property for the least amount of compensation. In many cases, the initial offer made to you will appear less than your own belief as to your property’s worth.
A seasoned eminent domain attorney can help make sure you receive the full measure of just compensation you are entitled to. First, they can assist you in finding the right appraiser and other necessary experts to properly value your property. Second, they can make sure that your just compensation payment includes:
- The actual fair market value of the property being taken based on its highest and best use
- Compensation for property improvements and fixtures (if appropriate)
- Compensation for damages (if a portion of the property that is taken negatively impacts the remaining property)
- Reimbursement for expert witness fees (if appropriate)
- Any reimbursable costs or interest that you may be entitled to receive
- Any relocation expenses that you are entitled to receive
Eminent domain laws are complex and they are subject to change. As such, you will need the guidance of an experienced attorney to help you navigate the complex process. An eminent domain attorney will guide you through the process from start to finish. Whether litigating to protect your interests or rights or negotiating a fair market value for your property, a seasoned attorney can help you achieve the best possible outcome.
About the Author:
Leslie Fields is the Executive Director of Owners’ Counsel of America. Before retirement in 2014, Leslie practiced law for 33 years, mostly with Faegre Baker Daniels (now Faegre Drinker), a law firm with national and international offices. While at Faegre, Leslie served on the firm’s Management Board and became a renowned legal expert on eminent domain and property rights issues, co-chairing for many years the national ALI-CLE Eminent Domain and Land Valuation and Litigation Conference, and presenting on the subject of eminent domain in locales as distant as Tsinghua University in Beijing China as part of the Brigham Kanner Property Rights conference sponsored by William & Mary Law School. During much of this time, Leslie served as the Colorado member of OCA and wrote the definitive textbook on Eminent Domain Law in Colorado. Leslie came out of retirement in 2017, specifically to help lead OCA in its mission of helping private landowners in eminent domain and takings situations across the country.