A property owner’s guide to eminent domain, condemnation, redevelopment and real estate property valuation issues.
Don’t Delay! Know your rights and know all the options that are available. In eminent domain matters, it is vitally important to seek legal advice in the early stages of “public use” project planning. Waiting to hear what is presented at a public hearing, contacting the taking agency or corporation, or speaking with representatives who are employed by the taker may harm your case and could be held against you in a court of law.
Redevelopment projects are being attempted in non-blighted areas! The condemnation of non-blighted private property for redevelopment purposes by government entities in partnership with private developers and corporations has occurred in the U.S. and challenges that have gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court have been sustained in favor of the government. As a result of these attempts at a broader definition of “blight”, more and more well-kept residences and thriving businesses are finding they are at the target of condemnation efforts. Property owners need to know what action they should – and should not – take in these situations in order to protect their rights and receive fair compensation for their properties.
Take a qualified attorney to the initial public hearing! In many cases, the law firm you ask to accompany you to these hearings will not require compensation for this service. The presence of an attorney at the onset is important in order to ascertain the scope of the proposed development; the development options available for the proposed location; what measures are proposed for residents, businesses, and relocation; how the proposed development may impact you even if your property is not subject to condemnation; what the proposed time-frame is for the project; and when the acquirer will be appraising your property and making its initial offer of compensation. Waiting until you receive a notice of condemnation or the initial offer puts you at a disadvantage in terms of exploring all the options that might be available to you at the time of the initial public hearings.
What you say and do is critical! For example, did you know:
- You should not speak with or interact with appraisers, agents or representatives of the condemning authority without consulting with your attorney. Anything you say and any documentation you provide can be used against you later.
- You will not forfeit any of your rights by having your attorney insist that compensation take into account the full value of the property being acquired as well as factors that have a bearing on any lost value to your remaining property.
- You should exercise extreme caution in challenging any tax assessment you feel is too high when you are threatened with condemnation as this could undermine the credibility of the valuation obtained on your behalf.
- Applications for re-zoning, re-titling of contiguous properties, subdivision approval and building permits should be approached with caution and only with qualified counsel when the property is threatened with eminent domain proceedings.
- Do not permit borings, exploration for hazardous waste or well testing without securing the advice of your legal counsel.
- Refer all requests for business-related paperwork including leases, profit and loss statements, expense records and similar documentation to your attorney.
- Do not allow the threat of condemnation to force you into a premature listing of your property at a below-market-value price. Taking such an action could undermine the valuation placed on the property by your eminent domain appraiser.
- If your property is subject to condemnation, do not amend, negotiate or take any action regarding lease terms or agreements with your tenants without consulting an attorney. Any action you take during this period may impact your ability to receive a fair settlement for your property.