You may have heard the terms “eminent domain” and “condemnation” used interchangeably. However, although the terms pertain to similar issues, they are not synonymous. Both of these terms are used in land use law, especially in instances where an entity attempts to seize private property to convert it into public use. It’s worth taking some time to understand the small but essential differences between condemnation and eminent domain so you can navigate potential legal disputes with greater clarity and confidence.
Understanding Eminent Domain
Eminent domain refers to an entity’s authority to take private property from a landowner and convert it for public use. However, the entity must adhere to specific rules and guidelines to exercise this power. For example, a government entity may only exercise eminent domain after it provides monetary compensation to the landowner and provides the owner with ample notice of the impending acquisition. Although government entities typically carry out and exercise their eminent domain power, other entities, like pipelines or transmission lines, may attempt to use this authority as well.
The Condemnation Process
The term condemnation refers to the process by which an entity exercises its eminent domain power. Let’s say the department of transportation wishes to build a highway that runs through your property. This entity has the authority to do so through its power of eminent domain, and it will initiate the process by filing a condemnation complaint. Condemnation is a process that requires the authority to follow several procedural steps before it may lay claim to your property. There are many issues that may arise during the condemnation process, so it’s essential that landowners understand their legal rights and responsibilities during each stage.
The Condemnation Process
Each state has its own rules and procedures for the condemnation process. In both Alabama and Texas, an entity wishing to exercise its eminent domain authority must follow several steps before taking possession of private property. Here are just a few of the steps that an entity must take before commencing a condemnation action.
The condemning authority must have the property appraised to determine a fair market value for the property it wishes to take. They must provide the property owner with a reasonable opportunity to participate in the appraisal process to ensure a fair and equitable assessment.
The entity must provide a written statement and summary explaining the amount of compensation they are offering in exchange for the property. This notice must include specific details about how the entity arrived at this amount in an attempt to be as transparent as possible. If the property owner accepts this offer, they are not required to surrender the property until they have received the payment.
Notifying the Property Owner
For the most part, the condemning authority must grant the property owner a 90-day window to vacate. The condemnor cannot require the premises to be vacated before the time is up. In some cases, the condemning entity may speed up this process, but it often requires court approval.
Understanding Your Rights as a Landowner
While both Alabama and Texas specify the steps and processes a condemning entity must follow, several legal issues may arise during this process. Unfortunately, the term “just compensation” leaves room for lowball offers, leaving many property owners hastily accepting an initial offer without knowing that they have the right to negotiate for a more equitable amount of compensation. An entity attempting to enforce its eminent domain power will usually try to exploit the appraisal process, using an assessor who fails to comply with laws regarding the type of appraisal that must be conducted, which in turn undervalues your property dramatically or lists insufficient or downright inaccurate justifications for this lowball offer. As a property owner, you have the legal right to reject this offer and demand the total amount of compensation you deserve.
Advocating For Your Best Interests
It’s important to understand that you do not have to navigate the condemnation process alone. Many property owners feel overwhelmed by this process and remain unaware of their legal options in response to a condemnation action. As soon as you know that an entity is planning to exercise its power of eminent domain, contact an experienced Alabama real estate attorney to discuss the situation. Together, you can explore your legal options and take steps to protect your rights in the face of this impending action. If possible, your attorney will seek to reject the entity’s unjust offer and take the matter to court, where a judge will determine whether the entity has the authority to take your property and, if so, how much compensation they must pay you. No matter what the specifics of your situation may be, working with a trusted attorney is the best way to obtain the most favorable outcome.
If you need help with an eminent domain or condemnation issue in Alabama or Texas, call Sewell Sewell Beard, LLC, today at (205) 544-2350 or (972) 777-5390 to speak with an experienced real estate attorney.