What is eminent domain?
Eminent domain is the power of the government to take or condemn your property for a public purpose upon payment of full compensation. Examples of a public purpose include construction or expansion of a road, utilities, school, airport or other public facilities. Furthermore, there are other actions of the government that may constitute a taking.
What does “full compensation” mean?
The Florida constitution expressly requires the condemning authority to pay the property owner full compensation, which includes fair market value for the property taken, plus the loss in value to any remaining property, as well as payment of your lawyer’s fees and costs (not out of your compensation, but in addition to your compensation). Full compensation is “a practical attempt to make the owner whole.” While fair market value is an indication, it is not an exclusive standard.
What Governmental agencies can exercise the power of eminent domain to take private property?
There are numerous governmental agencies and quasi-government entities that have the power to take your property, including but not limited to federal, state, county, and municipal governmental entities, as well as utilities, transportation departments, airport and seaport authorities, water management districts, among others. The power of eminent domain is limited by the constitution and statutes. Often, it is delegated to various government agencies with limitations, conditions, and other requirements.
- Federal, State and Local Government
- School Boards
- Water Districts
- Environmental Agencies
Can I decline the government’s request to take my land?
Yes. The government must prove that it is necessary to take all or part of your property for a legitimate public purpose. This issue is decided by the court at an evidentiary hearing prior to the trial on valuation. You have a right to contest the government’s determination that your property is necessary for the stated public purpose.
What is “fair market value?”
In simple terms, fair market value is the price upon which a seller and buyer can agree, with neither party under any duress. In eminent domain matters, however, “duress” is inherent. An eminent domain law firm will engage a respected and qualified property appraiser to help determine the fair market value, both of the property being taken and the loss or diminution of value to any remaining or associated property.
Do I have to take their offer?
No. You can and should obtain your own valuation analysis with the advice and consultation of knowledgeable eminent domain legal counsel. A jury will determine full compensation if your case is not settled. The unique laws that apply to the valuation of property in eminent domain cases are often different from those done for loans, sales or other purposes.
How do I know if the condemning authority’s offer is too low? Aren’t they required to treat me fairly and pay fair market value?
In our experience, the initial condemning authority offer is typically far below the compensation you are entitled. It is almost always advisable to consult with an experienced eminent domain attorney or appraiser before you consider the authority’s offer. We will do that assessment for you at no charge.
What happens to my remaining property?
You are entitled to keep that portion of your property that is not necessary for public purpose. The government must pay you for any diminished value to that remaining property.
Do I have to pay to fight for my rights?
Florida law requires that a condemning authority pay for a property owner’s defense in an eminent domain matter. This includes reasonable attorney’s fees and expert fees including appraisers, engineers, accountants and other expert witnesses. The reimbursement of attorney’s fees and costs is in addition to the compensation for the taking and will not reduce your compensation.
I’ve received notification that my property is being condemned. What should I do next?
The first notice you receive may not be a formal notification. Nevertheless, you should consult with an experienced Eminent Domain attorney. You should not have communication with the condemning authority or its appraiser.
What Sets Us Apart
What criteria are important for selecting an appraiser for an eminent domain case?
An eminent domain appraiser should meet the following standards:
- Thorough understanding of eminent domain valuation rules
- Experience with property type being acquired
- Ability to write a comprehensive and thoroughly reasoned appraisal report
- Ability and experience as a witness in court.
Will the eminent domain laws support my claim for more money based upon a potential zoning change to the property?
Yes, if it is reasonable that someone would buy the property and change the zoning based upon a more valuable use than current zoning allows.
Will changes in access to my property result in extra compensation to me under the eminent domain rules?
Possibly. Access to property is an integral part of the rights of property ownership. When access is adversely changed in a significant way or lost because of eminent domain, the owner’s ability to use the property is restricted. This restriction may require payment from the government. If we are retained early enough in the process it may be possible to have the government change its plans to improve the negative impacts proposed. We often are involved early to develop alternatives which would permit the government to get what it needs.
Is it possible that the government’s eminent domain acquisition could produce compensation for damage to my property that is not readily apparent?
An owner typically has one bite at the compensation apple. Seemingly innocuous takings can have profound impacts that are not readily apparent. For example, if a taking causes the remaining property to become non-conforming with applicable zoning codes, the owner may not recognize the impact until he/she sells the remaining property or attempts to improve the property with an addition. The government may restrict access for the existing use only. When the owner attempts to sell the property later or develop if for a higher, more valuable use, that attempt will be denied.
If a government’s project obstructs the visibility or view, will this condition justify compensation?
The loss of visibility may be compensable. If the same loss of view or visibility is not accompanied by a physical taking, generally compensation is not warranted. This is a new area of compensation that will be refined by future eminent domain rulings.
Will the presence of contamination justify a lower property value?
This issue has not yet received widespread attention from the courts. The government sometimes make offers based upon substantial discounts for contamination. Some courts reject those discounts in certain situations.
Can I be compensated if the government disadvantageously effects my business operation?
Florida law allows recovery of business damages in certain circumstances. We will evaluate the compensability of business damages at no cost or obligation to you.
What if I do not own the property but I lease space in a property being impact by Eminent Domain?
Lessees are considered constitutional owners and may be entitled to compensation; you should consult an Eminent Domain attorney. Compensation may include the value of the leasehold interest, business damages, fixtures, equipment, and relocation expenses.