What is eminent domain, and should I be worried?


One of the things that property owners must be concerned with is eminent domain, which is defined as “the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.”City, county, state and federal governments can claim eminent domain for any number of reasons. For example, if your property is impeding a road expansion, it may make the claim in order to make the land available for public use.

If you receive notification that a government entity is considering an eminent domain designation on your property, there are two things you should know:

1. They have to pay you fair market value for it.

2. Their offer will be on the low end of fair market value.

Eminent domain power can and has been abused. There can exist a conflict of interest when a developer lobbies a city government for a redevelopment project, only because it plans to construct new buildings for office, retail or housing in order to line their pockets.

The first thing you need to do when faced with eminent domain is hire an attorney who specializes in the area.

Agency with the interest in your property will hire an appraiser to inspect and appraise your property.
Agency makes an offer, usually a low one.
If you don’t accept their offer, and are unable to negotiate a fair deal, they will schedule a public hearing. The agency has to prove their case that acquiring the property is necessary for the public good.
They will file a complaint against you in Superior Court, and you will be served a summons which requires a response.
They will deposit “probable compensation” and file a motion for prejudgment possession with the Court. At this time, you may object once again. If their motion is approved, they may take possession of your property within 30 days.
At this time, your attorney will obtain appraisal reports from appraisers and other experts to establish your property’s fair market value. These reports are filed with the Court and presented to the agency who filed for eminent domain.
Mediation – the two parties come to an agreement, if one can be reached.
If you can’t come to a compromise, they are forced to make a final offer.
If you still do not accept the offer, a trial will be held to determine fair market value of your property and hear any other issues.
Your rights as a property owner vary by your home state. You need to be informed of those rights and the process. For instance, depending on your home state, you may be able to recover attorney fees from the agency who filed the case. Do your homework. Most importantly, hire a successful attorney who specializes in eminent domain cases.