Understanding Eminent Domain in Alabama
First, it’s helpful to recognize which entities enjoy eminent domain authority in Alabama. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution endows government entities with the power to take privately-owned property for projects that benefit the public, but they must provide “just compensation” to the landowner in exchange for their property. For instance, departments of transportation may exercise eminent domain authority for projects involving highway or railway expansion. Local governments may use this power to install a new public park or school. In some cases, utility companies may exercise this right. As a landowner in Alabama, you also enjoy several rights. However, there are circumstances in which another entity may seize your private property in exchange for compensation as long as the proposed project will benefit the public in some way. The legal power for an approved federal, state, or local government entity to seize private property for public use is called eminent domain. When the entity wishes to exercise its eminent domain authority, it will initiate what’s known as the condemnation process.
Condemnation is a legal proceeding in which the entity notifies the property owner of its intention to compensate them in exchange for their land. As a homeowner, receiving a condemnation notice can be stressful and confusing. Unfortunately, many Alabama property owners do not recognize that they have legal rights during this process, and they accept the initial settlement offer that may undervalue their property significantly. If you are facing an upcoming eminent domain or condemnation action in your community, it’s essential to understand your rights—especially your right to request compensation that reflects the fair market value of the property being taken valued at its highest and best use, not its current use. You are also entitled to damages incurred upon property NOT taken. Those damages present themselves in many different ways, including loss of access to a road, flooding, etc.
Navigating the Condemnation Process
When an entity wishes to exercise its eminent domain authority, it will notify the affected property owner by sending a condemnation letter. This letter informs the landowner of the impending condemnation action and provides a settlement offer in exchange for the property. While the proposed amount should reflect the property’s market value calculated as discussed above, the initial offer usually does not. That is why you need an experienced condemnation attorney to evaluate whether the initial offer is legitimate, or a lowball effort to cheat you.
How a Trusted Condemnation Attorney Can Help
Although the law requires condemning entities to offer “just compensation” in exchange for private property, this does not usually happen. These entities often use appraisals that fall far below the market value; in fact, they often fail to take into account the highest and best use of the property and the damages to the property not taken. As an Alabama landowner, you should recognize that it’s within your legal rights to reject this lowball offer. The government will likely respond by filing a Complaint for Condemnation, and a probate judge will determine whether you are entitled to a higher amount of compensation in exchange for your property. Your attorney can help you enlist outside, independent appraisers to arrive at a more comprehensive and accurate valuation of your property and your damages. Even if you are unsatisfied with the probate judge’s ruling, you can still appeal your case to a trial court. There, a team of jurors will listen to your case and decide the amount of “just compensation” you should receive. Your experienced condemnation attorney will know how to start preparing for a jury trial from the beginning of your representation because that may be what it takes to recover what you are entitled to receive.
Protect Your Best Interests Today
The prospect of an external entity seizing your land can be stressful and overwhelming. However, before you assume the worst, reach out to a knowledgeable and trusted condemnation lawyer to help you assess and understand your options. Together, you can identify the most strategic path forward. Whether you end up contesting the entity’s right to pursue the proposed project or push for a more equitable settlement offer, you can trust that your lawyer will advocate passionately on your behalf at every turn.
If you need help with an eminent domain or condemnation matter, the dedicated legal team at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC is here for you. We’ve been doing this for 39 years. Call our Alabama office at (205) 544-2350 or our Texas office at (972) 777-5390 to get started.