Purchasing a property or piece of land in Alabama is usually an exciting endeavor. Whether you are using the property for residential or commercial purposes, you enjoy several legal rights as a landowner. However, many property owners may not know about eminent domain or condemnation matters, and it can be confusing and overwhelming if such an issue arises. If you’ve received a condemnation notice informing you that a local, state, or federal governmental agency will be exercising its eminent domain authority to seize your property in exchange for compensation, contact an experienced and trusted condemnation attorney right away. You have rights and options available to you, so work with your attorney to determine the most strategic course of action. Now is not the time to go it alone—enlist the guidance of a skilled condemnation lawyer to ensure you obtain the most favorable outcome possible.
What is Eminent Domain?
Both federal and state constitutions endow the government with eminent domain authority. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution gives the government the power to seize land for public use, provided it provides “just compensation” in exchange. For example, a government agency, like the Department of Transportation, may exercise its eminent domain authority to seize private property so it can complete a highway expansion project. However, it must provide the affected landowner with compensation for both the land being taken and damage to any land remaining. While the power of the government to seize private land is called eminent domain, the legal process by which the agency exercises this right is called condemnation.
Common Types of Eminent Domain Projects
There are several reasons a government entity may decide to exercise its eminent domain authority. As long as the entity can demonstrate that the proposed project benefits the public in some way, the court will likely allow the project to move forward. Common examples of projects benefiting the public include highway or railway expansion, installing new public parks or schools, bridge construction, and the expansion or maintenance of certain utilities, such as gas, electricity, or water.
How Condemnation Works
When a government entity moves forward with its decision to take private property, it must appraise the value of the affected land to determine how much compensation to provide the owner. Unfortunately, these appraisals often fail to consider all factors and fail to utilize appropriate methods for valuing your property, resulting in lowball settlement offers. As a property owner who receives a condemnation letter of offer, you may believe you have no choice but to accept this amount of compensation. However, you have the legal right to reject this offer and negotiate and, if necessary, litigate to obtain more money for your land being taken, plus damages to your remaining land that is not taken. But you have to be prepared. Navigating condemnation matters can be incredibly difficult and complicated, so working with a knowledgeable condemnation attorney is essential to maximize your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome.
Assessing Your Legal Options as a Property Owner
Most condemnation notices are worded in a way that makes it seem as if you have no choice but to accept the offer. However, you do have the right to push back. As soon as you receive a condemnation letter, contact a seasoned condemnation attorney to help you understand your options. First, your attorney can help you work with independent appraisers to determine a more fair and reasonable value for the property being taken, in addition to quantifying damage to any remaining property not being taken. It’s important to recognize that as soon as you contest the condemnation letter, the entity will likely file a Complaint for Condemnation. This initiates a legal procedure in which a probate judge will determine whether the entity possesses the authority to seize your property and, if so, what amount of compensation they must pay you in exchange. If you disagree with the judge’s decision, you have the option to appeal your case to a trial court, where a jury will decide the amount of compensation owed to you. A jury trial is not where the condemning agency wants to go because a jury is usually not at all sympathetic to the government seizing your land. So, you have to be willing and prepared to take the case to a jury. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced condemnation lawyer representing you.
Keeping Your Future Bright
Eminent domain law is complex to navigate, especially for property owners unfamiliar with the nuances of such legal matters. As soon as you learn of an upcoming project in your community that may impact your property, you should contact a trusted condemnation attorney to discuss your options. Together, you can take the necessary steps to keep your future bright and turn lemons into lemonade.
Sewell Sewell Beard LLC is committed to helping property owners navigate condemnation and eminent domain matters. Call our Alabama office (205) 544-2350 or our Texas office (972) 777-5390 to speak with a trusted condensation attorney.