Maximizing Compensation: Negotiation Strategies in Eminent Domain For Alabama

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Alabama property owners have the right to negotiate a fair compensation offer from the condemning authority when facing an eminent domain action. Talk to a condemnation lawyer today to learn more about how you can maximize the amount of compensation you can receive in exchange for your land.

The feeling of purchasing a home or piece of land is thrilling and exciting, especially for first-time buyers. Owning property is an accomplishment, and it’s natural to feel proud of this achievement. Although Alabama has some of the strongest legal protections in the country for private landowners, there are circumstances in which a government or other approved authority may invoke its constitutional power of eminent domain to seize private property for public use. Most landowners are unfamiliar with eminent domain matters and the legal process of condemnation, leaving them vulnerable to accepting lowball offers of compensation in exchange for their property. However, it’s essential to recognize that property owners have several legal rights in the face of eminent domain and condemnation actions, including the right to negotiate a fair and favorable amount of compensation from the authority that is seizing the property for a project that will benefit the public in some way. As soon as you learn of an upcoming eminent domain or condemnation matter in your community, contact a knowledgeable and experienced Alabama condemnation attorney who can assess the details of the situation and protect your best interests. Together, you and your eminent domain lawyer can examine your options for negotiating a favorable amount of compensation that reflects the full worth of your property. Let’s take a closer look at the condemnation process in Alabama and some of the negotiation strategies you can use to maximize the amount of compensation you may be able to recover.

An Overview of Eminent Domain in Alabama

Eminent domain refers to a constitutional power bestowed upon qualifying governmental entities that allows them to seize private property to use in projects that benefit the public in some manner. In exchange for taking private property, the authority seeking to exercise its eminent domain power must provide the owner “just compensation” for the land it seizes. For example, the Department of Transportation may decide to build a new highway to ease traffic congestion in a heavily traveled area of Alabama. However, to accomplish this project, the Department of Transportation may need to knock down private residences to construct an onramp or portion of the highway. The authority will notify the affected property owners by sending them condemnation notices informing them of the impending project and offering compensation in return. When an entity wishes to invoke its eminent domain power, it will initiate a legal process known as condemnation. Unfortunately, many property owners do not recognize that they have many legal rights during the condemnation process. As soon as you learn of a potential construction project in your community, consider discussing your options with a knowledgeable and caring Alabama eminent domain lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected at every step of the upcoming process.

Understanding What Constitutes “Public Use”

Authorities wishing to invoke eminent domain power must be able to justify this action by demonstrating that the proposed project is for the benefit of the public. For the most part, governmental entities like state, federal, and municipal departments enjoy eminent domain authority. Over the years, however, Alabama courts have granted eminent domain power to certain private interests, including a private toll road company, a downtown redevelopment project, a private parking company, and several public utility companies. Moreover, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2005 holding that “a city’s decision to take private property for the purpose of economic development satisfied the ‘public use’ requirement of the Fifth Amendment.” In response to this ruling, states like Alabama enacted stricter measures to limit the use of eminent domain power for projects of purely commercial and economic interest. If you are concerned that the proposed eminent domain project does not meet the public use requirement, discuss the matter with your local eminent domain attorney for specific guidance.

Negotiating “Just Compensation”

When a condemning authority invokes its eminent domain power, it must notify the affected property owner in writing. Unfortunately, condemnation letters are usually worded in such a way that it appears as if the recipient has no choice but to accept the terms of the condemnation action, including the proposed amount of compensation. However, condemning authorities almost always propose an amount of compensation that undervalues the complete worth of the property. It may use limited factors to determine its estimate, failing to take into account the complex variables that can determine the worth of the property being acquired and the damages to the property not being acquired (the Remainder). When you receive the offer, it’s essential that you discuss your options with your experienced and caring Alabama eminent domain lawyer to determine how you can negotiate a more equitable amount of compensation in exchange for handing over your land. Below are a few negotiating strategies that can help you maximize the compensation you’re able to receive in exchange for your private property.

Enlist an Independent Appraiser

You have the right to hire an independent and experienced condemnation appraiser who can determine a more accurate valuation of your property that is being taken and, importantly, the extent of the damage that will occur to the property not being taken (the Remainder). Many property owners faced with a condemnation action incorrectly assume that they must accept the initial offer. However, your condemnation lawyer will help you involve an outside professional to complete a more fair and comprehensive assessment of the amount you are entitled to receive, taking into account a variety of factors that can impact its current and future worth. You can use this information to negotiate and, if necessary, litigate to achieve a much more favorable outcome. A jury is not sympathetic to a condemning authority, and condemning authorities don’t want to face a jury. So, you have to prepare your case for trial. That’s the most effective form of negotiation. But it takes time to prepare your case. That’s why it’s important to start your engine early in the process to give your condemnation attorney and appraiser the time needed to put your case together and be ready to present it in court if necessary. Being prepared is the best way to avoid litigation and obtain a better and faster outcome.

Be Confident in Making Your Request

Although it’s natural to feel somewhat intimidated by a larger entity that intends to seize your property for an upcoming project, remember that you have the right to demand more from a condemning authority. Working with a local condemnation attorney in Alabama can give you the confidence and reassurance you need to maximize the amount of compensation you recover from the condemning authority. When you understand your legal rights during this process, you can make bolder decisions with greater certainty and confidence.

You do not have to navigate the condemnation process on your own. Reach out to the dedicated legal team at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC today by calling our Jasper, Alabama office at (205) 544-2350 or our Prosper, Texas office at (972) 777-5390 to discuss your options and identify the most strategic path forward. We’ve been doing this for 39 years.