Is the government coming for your land?
If you find yourself in the path – or crosshairs – of progress, here’s the information you need to understand your situation, your rights, and some next steps. If you need help, you know you can call on us.
North Carolina Eminent Domain Attorneys
Fact: the government can take your property. Whether it’s your home or a business or a church, they can take it. While they may not necessarily take it all, what they do take can have a dramatic impact on the property, how you can use it, and ultimately what it is worth. The right of the government to seize private property in the public interest is called Eminent Domain.
What Gives the Government the Right to Take My Property?
Under the 5th amendment, the government may exercise their right to seize property against a landowner’s will in a process called “condemnation,” provided the taking is for a “public use” and the government provides “just compensation.”
What Constitutes “Public Use?”
Historically, “public use” meant projects intended to benefit the community as a whole, such as highways, schools, parks, and public works projects. In addition, governments have exercised eminent domain rights to eliminate “blight” through redevelopment.
The definition of “public use” was greatly expanded by the Supreme Court in 2005, however. In Kelo vs. New London, Conn., the Court recognized a municipality’s right to condemn property for use by a private developer for economic development reasons. In the Kelo case, the seized property was sold to a private developer to build offices, a health club, and a hotel in order to create jobs and raise municipal tax revenue.
What Constitutes “Just Compensation?”
Just compensation includes the fair market value of the property taken as well as certain impacts or damages to the value of any remaining property (“severance damages”). When the government decides to take your property, it will make you an offer. Here’s the first, and most important step in trying to get maximum compensation for your property: don’t simply accept the government’s offer.
The government, like any other buyer, wants your property for the lowest possible price. It’s usually best to consult an experienced eminent domain attorney when you’re faced with this situation, as you may be able to argue for a much higher price if you have the right information and the experience to know how the system works.
What Exactly Is “Condemnation?”
When a government exercises eminent domain rights, it does so through the process of condemnation. While the word “condemned” may carry certain negative implications, in the context of eminent domain such a term is used regardless of the physical condition of the property.
In other words, your property being condemned doesn’t mean it’s all going to be bulldozed. In many, if not most cases, the government isn’t going to need all of your property – it’s more likely to need a piece of it. Perhaps the trickiest part of eminent domain is in valuing what the government is taking.
What Are Some Examples of Eminent Domain Takings?
One of the more common eminent domain issues we run into is easements. There are many types, and the one thing they all share is that they modify your property in ways you probably won’t like.
Let’s say the government decides it is going to take an easement across a portion of the front of your property. If it’s your home, you could lose most of the front yard. If it’s your business, you could lose a substantial amount of parking. You may find that getting to your property is difficult during and after the construction. Your property’s value will almost certainly decrease when you go to sell it in the future. Plus you may find that your use of your property in the easement area is significantly restricted. That’s why an experienced advocate can be so valuable.
More people means more need for infrastructure, including roads. Maybe there’s a busy highway or street that needs to be widened, or an intersection that requires a new turning lane. What happens when the government wants to run a road across your property?
Let’s say you own a business and the government decides that it needs to add a turning lane right in front of your property. It may seem like a small thing at a glance, but they might take the land you were using for parking, signage, or entry and exit. Any one of these could create a massive issue and financial headache and drastically impact the value of the property. And these are just the tip of the iceberg!
How Do I Know My Property Is Subject to an Eminent Domain Taking?
The government will notify you. In fact, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has many projects planned for years in the future. There are many property owners who may already have a case for compensation due to the legal changes surrounding the North Carolina Map Act and its repeal.
You can visit the NCDOT’s State Transportation Improvement Program document to see what projects the state has planned and get an idea of whether or not your property is in the path – or crosshairs – of progress. We urge those who are subject to an eminent domain taking to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Believe it or not, you can do damage to your case just by saying things the wrong way to a right-of-way agent.
What Are My Legal Rights in Eminent Domain?
Like anyone faced with an eminent domain taking, you likely have a lot of questions. Though eminent domain can be a frightening proposition, property owners are not powerless. There are many ways an experienced eminent domain attorney can help. In rare cases, you may be able to fight the taking, but more often than not, your efforts are best focused on trying to maximize your “just compensation.”
Legally speaking, “just compensation” has been interpreted to require that the government pay for the difference in Fair Market Value (FMR) caused by the property it takes, typically based on professional real estate appraisals. Fair Market Value (FMR) is based not on the property’s current use, but on its “highest and best use.” For example, property currently used as a family farm could be sold for high-end commercial development, and should be valued accordingly.
The government may claim there is a lower “highest and best use of the property” than is the actual case. The difference in compensation can be substantial. We may be able to help you negotiate a fair settlement.
The government may also understate severance damages, or not recognize their existence.
Examples of severance damages include:
- The loss of a business’ street frontage affects its ability to display wares and attract customers.
- The loss of a parcel that was complementary to a remaining one (i.e., a storage facility that served the primary business).
- The taking of one parcel leaves a remaining one “nonconforming” under zoning codes, requiring special permission to make substantial changes.
- The seizure of property that compromises access to any remaining parcels.
- The taking of parking areas critical to remaining business parcels.
- The taking of land that results in the division of the property into smaller parcels that may not be used efficiently.
Contact Experienced North Carolina Eminent Domain Attorneys
If the government is threatening to take away your land and you feel you are not being treated fairly, you may need a North Carolina eminent domain lawyer on your side. You may need the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. Call us at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online and we’ll see if we can help. We will evaluate your case for free!
No Attorney’s Fee Unless We Collect for You
We work on a contingency fee basis,2 which means that if we don’t get you any additional compensation over what the government offered you for your property, we don’t recover an attorney’s fee. While a case may have fees and costs associated with it, there is no hourly fee charged by the firm. Simply put, if you do not recover additional compensation above what the government offered you, there is no attorney’s fee.