They say that “you can’t fight city hall,” but this is not true, particularly concerning eminent domain disputes. Government entities use the eminent domain legal process when they perceive the need to buy privately owned property for public use. Generally, reasons for purchasing the land include urban development (buildings or infrastructure) or public benefit (new parks, etc.) The federal, state or local government must offer the property owner a fair and equitable price. Disputes over the property’s true value and the amount of property necessary are common.
Many believe that the municipality or government agency has the advantage because they are the ones who write and enforce regulations and laws. Still, they must adhere to certain principles to act fair in their treatment of the property owner. Property owners face many challenges and benefits.
Challenges employed by owners
Individuals or businesses can challenge eminent domain and obtain fair compensation. Common avenues to challenge the legal action are:
- Public use: The government entity must prove that it needs a particular parcel of land or real property. The owner can question the general need that drives the action, or they can challenge the necessity of seizing the owner’s particular piece of land. The government must justify a decision that seems arbitrary or even calculated to target a specific landowner. The government must provide evidence to support its action.
- Valuation: Anyone who buys and sells real estate understands that the property appraisal values will differ (sometimes wildly). It is essential to get independent appraisals that refute the municipality’s low valuation and justify the owner’s higher valuation.
- Additional benefits: The owner can also seek other benefits that may not be related to the sale price. For example, they may want help relocating to a suitable new location, or they want to alter a timeline for moving out that better fits their needs.
- Alternatives: The owner may seek other options than the outright condemnation, such as partial takings that allow the owner to retain a portion of the parcel, or they can receive ongoing compensation for the use of their land.
Litigation is possible
Considering the amount of money and red tape involved in eminent domain issues and the legal resources that municipalities have at their disposal, it is advisable to work with the right attorney. Most real estate attorneys handle transactions and paperwork, but a litigator can be a real asset for those willing to fight city hall over an eminent domain dispute.