Alabama landowners enjoy several legal protections. However, there are instances in which a governmental authority may seize private land and use it for construction projects benefiting the public in some way. This action is known as eminent domain, and only certain approved entities may exercise their eminent domain power. Additionally, the entity must provide compensation to the landowner in exchange for seizing their property. When a local, state, or federal government entity exercises its eminent domain power, the subsequent legal process (called condemnation) begins. For most landowners, navigating eminent domain and condemnation matters can be confusing, overwhelming, and stressful. It’s essential that you enlist the assistance of a trusted and experienced condemnation attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and represent your best interests at every step of the process. Whether you are currently facing a condemnation matter or you suspect that an upcoming construction project may impact your property, familiarizing yourself with the condemnation process can help you approach the situation with greater clarity and confidence.
What is Eminent Domain?
Eminent domain refers to “the power of the sovereign, or those on whom such power has been conferred, to take property, or interests in property, for public use and upon payment of just compensation.” Essentially, every sovereign state enjoys this inherent power, guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. While local, state, and federal governments may exercise eminent domain authority at any time, the legislature may also prescribe other entities to exercise this power. For instance, counties, municipal corporations, gas and electric companies, and other public utility agencies generally have the right to exercise their eminent domain authority to complete projects benefiting the public.
How Much is “Just Compensation”?
Although eminent domain laws specify that the condemning authority must provide the property owner with “just compensation,” this vague phrase leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Alabama has interpreted “just compensation” as a sum of money paid to the property owner such that the owner “would be saved harmless as near may be, and put in as near the same condition as such owner would have been but for the taking.” However, it’s important to note that the condemning authority often attempts to compensate property owners as little as possible. Unfortunately, many property owners do not recognize that they have the legal right to push for a fairer amount of compensation. As soon as you learn of a potential eminent domain action in your area, reach out to an experienced and caring condemnation lawyer who can help you negotiate an equitable settlement offer.
How Does the Condemnation Process Begin?
When an entity wishes to exercise its eminent domain power, it must take several steps before filing a condemnation action in probate court. First, the property must be appraised to determine the amount of compensation to offer the owner. The condemnor should then offer to purchase the interest at the total appraised value and provide the owner with a written statement and summary demonstrating the basis of the compensation offer. Alabama has put additional guidelines in place that prohibit the condemnor from arbitrarily advancing the time for condemnation, arbitrarily deferring negotiations, or taking other coercive actions. Failing to comply with these requirements may result in the dismissal of the condemnation action and the award of litigation expenses to the owner.
How Can an Alabama Landowner Respond to a Condemnation Letter?
As a property owner, receiving a condemnation notice can be confusing and intimidating. These documents are usually worded in such a way that suggests the property owner has no choice but to comply with the action. Unfortunately, many landowners go along with the condemnation process without recognizing their legal right to negotiate a more equitable amount of compensation. Research has shown that communities targeted by eminent domain for development tend to be communities of color whose residents are more likely to live at or below the poverty line. These communities may not recognize their legal rights, making them more vulnerable to accepting unjust compensation amounts because they feel they have no other choice. If an upcoming construction project will affect your community, contact a skilled and trusted condemnation lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options.
Do I Need to Work With a Condemnation Lawyer?
Eminent domain and condemnation laws are complex and challenging to navigate, so working with a seasoned attorney is the best way to ensure your rights and best interests remain protected at all times. Your lawyer will answer your questions, address your concerns, and support you at every stage of the process, working hard to keep your future as bright as possible.
The dedicated condemnation attorneys at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC are here to help. Call our Alabama office at (205) 544-2350 or our Texas office at (972) 777-5390 today to learn more.