As a property owner in Alabama, you have several legal rights over the use, maintenance, and control of your land. However, there are circumstances in which a government entity may exercise its eminent domain authority to seize your land (in exchange for compensation) to use it in a project intended for public use. Unfortunately, many property owners fail to realize that they have legal rights in such proceedings, potentially causing them to leave money on the table because they did not realize the offer they received was based upon a faulty or incomplete appraisal. When a federal, state, or local government entity wishes to exercise its eminent domain power, it will initiate condemnation proceedings against the affected private property owners. The condemnation process can be complicated and overwhelming for Alabama landowners, so it’s essential to enlist the guidance of a seasoned and knowledgeable condemnation lawyer to ensure you understand your rights and options at every step of the process.
Who Has the Right to Initiate Condemnation Proceedings?
First, it’s important to understand how eminent domain and condemnation matters typically work in Alabama. The United States Constitution and Alabama Constitution set forth the government’s right to take private property for public use. Cities, counties, and certain non-governmental organizations (like utility companies) may exercise their eminent domain power to convert private land into a new highway, school, park, or other project that benefit the community in some way. However, there are times when an entity either does not have eminent domain authority or the project does not meet the criteria for “public use.” It’s essential for Alabama landowners to recognize their right to take the matter to Probate Court, where a judge can rule whether the condemnation action may move forward. Cases involving eminent domain and condemnation tend to be quite complex and nuanced, so enlist the guidance of an experienced Alabama condemnation lawyer to maximize your chances of securing a favorable outcome.
Navigating the Condemnation Process
As a property owner, one of the most unexpected and stressful experiences you may encounter is receiving a condemnation offer letter. The government agency expressing its eminent domain authority usually words condemnation letters in an authoritative tone, making it seem as if you have no right but to accept the amount of compensation offered to you. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect during the condemnation process in Alabama.
First, the entity wishing to exercise its eminent domain power must have the private property appraised to determine a “just” amount of compensation to provide the owner. Unfortunately, the condemning authority almost always wants to pay landowners as little as possible, so the amount of compensation cited in the condemnation offer letter is often well below what is required to be paid. The letter may fail to mention how the offer was calculated. Although Alabama law requires the offer to be based on the highest and best use of your property, many government-hired appraisers feel pressured to appraise your property at its current use—leading to a significant undervaluing of your land. Although Alabama law also requires the offer to include an amount of money for any damages to the portion of the property not taken (the remainder), government hired appraisers routinely overlook that requirement – leading to an even more significant undervaluation. In a partial taking case, there will, more often than not, be damage to the remainder.
Involving an Independent Appraiser
Before you accept the offer and let the condemning authority move forward with their project, contact a skilled and caring condemnation attorney to discuss your options. For many landowners, involving an expert real estate appraiser is the best way to negotiate and secure a more equitable settlement. Condemnation appraisals differ from other types of real estate appraisals, as the appraiser must consider the impact of the construction and project on the property’s overall value—both current and future. An accurate appraisal must consider the “highest and best” use of the property and any damage to the remainder when calculating the amount due the landowner. Even if the seizing entity does not accept your counteroffer, the independent appraiser can serve as an expert witness in court to persuade the jury to award you more money.
Taking the Condemnation Dispute to Court
Landowners in Alabama should recognize that they have the right to object to a condemnation offer letter by taking the matter to Probate Court. If your condemnation attorney finds that such an action is your best option, they will help you prepare a compelling case to push for a more just and equitable award in exchange for giving up your land. With a dedicated attorney and an expert condemnation appraiser on your team, you can move forward with greater clarity and confidence to obtain more, and sometimes a lot more, than you were originally offered.
Discuss Your Legal Options Today
If a proposed highway expansion or another type of construction project has recently been announced in your area, reach out to an established and dedicated condemnation attorney as soon as possible. Together, you can assess the specifics of your situation and identify the most strategic path forward. Now is not the time to leave your future up to chance—get in touch with a trusted attorney today to explore your legal options for keeping your property and your future as bright as possible.
If you are concerned about a condemnation matter, the dedicated legal team at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC is here to help. Call our Alabama office at (205) 544-2350 or our Texas office at (972) 777-5390 today to get started.