Understanding the Term “Highest and Best Use” in Eminent Domain Cases

When a local, state or federal government decides to take privately owned land and convert it to serve the public, their inherent power to do so is called eminent domain. These entities must, however, provide “just compensation” to those property owners whose land is impacted by the proposed project. However, when the government sends letters of condemnation to landowners with an offer of compensation, this figure is often low because the government’s appraiser failed to follow the proper methodology that is unique to and required by condemnation law. One such failure is valuing your property based on its current use. The law requires that your property be valued at its highest and best use. Those two methodologies produce a very different valuation. The failure to appraise property at its highest and best use is a favored way to generate a low-ball offer. It happens frequently.

Providing a More Complete Picture

Considering the highest and best use of the property allows for a comparison of its value for many uses such as commercial, retail, industrial, etc.  Exploring these various scenarios allows for a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of the property’s highest and best uses and values, but government appraisers who are looking for a low number often fail to follow this legal requirement.

Determining Highest and Best Use

There are many factors to consider when evaluating the highest and best use of a property. For instance, an appraiser should look at whether and how the land is zoned—is it zoned for agricultural, residential or commercial use? The physical aspects of the property are also important, such as its size, shape, topography, accessibility and more. Then, financial considerations need to be made, such as how the value of the property would change after its conversion to another use. When it comes to exploring the highest and best use of a certain property, it’s important to think through multiple permutations and scenarios to form a complete picture of the property’s value with each alternative use. Once highest and best use is determined, then comparable sales of those type properties can be obtained. This is why it is critical for you to have an experienced attorney and condemnation appraiser on your side.

Negotiating Fair Compensation

When it comes to matters of eminent domain and condemnation, it’s essential for property owners in Alabama to recognize that they have legal options and rights. The experienced and reliable attorneys at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC are fully prepared to help you negotiate and obtain the just compensation that you are entitled to receive. Contact them today at (205) 544-2350 to learn more.

No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers. 



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