Roads, phone lines and waterways must all be attached to land. At some point all these objects were installed on property that did not belong to the government. So how did the government get the authority to use private land for an official purpose? The answer is found in the power of eminent domain. This legal theory allows the government to take over private property for a public purpose. In order to carry out an act of eminent domain the government must follow a detailed process called condemnation.
An Overview of an Eminent Domain Action
Federal, state and city officials frequently need to expand utilities or other public services. When this need arises, it usually requires locating land to house the project. If all or a portion of private property needs to be used, the government will begin an appraisal process. The results of the appraisal are converted into an offer to the private property owner.
A property owner is entitled to just compensation when the government exercises eminent domain. However, just compensation usually means different things to the parties involved. This can lead to disputes regarding the property's true value.
When a property owner refuses to accept the government’s offer the parcel will undergo condemnation. During this process the property owner will usually present an alternative appraisal of the parcel. Most property owners use a real estate attorney to ensure that their rights are protected.
If a property owner does not want to sell, he or she can try to invalidate the government’s proposed use of the land. Under the law, the government must have a valid public purpose and cannot use more property than necessary. Typically, it is hard to prove the government's intended purpose is not warranted. A real estate lawyer can help determine if you have a case on these grounds.
Determining the Property Value
Most challenges against eminent domain revolve around the pricing of the parcel. Every piece of property has unique characteristics that can affect the value. Two different appraisals may result in different amounts. The government will usually try to assert the market value of the property. This method relies on the sale amounts of similar properties located in the area. Property owners usually prefer the cost or income methods of valuation. These can help raise the price because they take additional factors into account.
The timing of the appraisal can also be a hotbed during negotiations. Property values can change significantly over time. The government is only required to pay for the property once it actually intends to take the parcel, or prevents the landowner from using it. However, the government is not allowed to purposefully delay an offer to obtain a lower price. It is also unlawful for the government to buy other parcels in the neighborhood, and allow them to deteriorate so as to buy remaining parcels at a discounted value.
A condemnation proceeding can be complex. You should not attempt to negotiate just compensation without the assistance of an experienced lawyer. If you need advice regarding eminent domain, contact the law office of Spencer and Jensen, PLLC.