Understanding Eminent Domain And Land Condemnation

Homeowners have special rights that protect their property. And they have all the rights to protect their property from intrusion and illegal seizure by third parties. Also, people with valid land ownership rights can do as they wish with their property, whether to build, lease or utilize it in any lawful way.  

However, there are a few circumstances under which the government can take your private property for public use. Such cases are generally included under the law of eminent domain. 

If you’re a homeowner whose property has been put on notice by the government, this article discusses what you need to know plus your next best course of action. 

Understanding The Fifth Amendment

When people think of the fifth amendment under the US constitution, they imagine it all concerns a criminal case – like when a person pleads the Fifth to avoid incriminating themselves or evade being prosecuted for the same crime (double jeopardy). However, the provision of the Fifth Amendment also gives homeowners the right to defend their property from government seizure or forfeiture without compensation. In other words, it offers you protection from having your rights violated by the government.

The power bestowed upon government entities to reclaim private property for public use is known as eminent domain. Such entities may take your property and convert it into a road, park, or similar public properties. It can be frustrating to know that your property is marked for seizure by the government as you’ll be deprived of the use of your rightful property. 

But when you plead the Fifth Amendment, it helps protect you from such appropriations without the government convicting you of any crime.  Fortunately, you can work with a reliable eminent domain lawyer who’ll ensure your property is not seized unlawfully and that it is appropriately assessed and completed. 

What is Eminent Domain?

As we have mentioned, when a government entity or private developer with legal permission puts your property on notice for public use, it’s called eminent domain. Under the US constitution, such agencies must not take private property without offering just compensation for it, known as the Fifth Amendment. Also, under the same constitution is the Fourth Amendment which states that state authorities must not deprive an American citizen of their life, freedom, or property without following the due process according to the law.

Through the power of an eminent domain, an agency or organization can offer you compensation in exchange for your property and convert it into public use. However, if you are unwilling to accept the offer, the agency or organization will have to exercise its power of eminent domain and commence a land condemnation process against you.

Both eminent domain and land condemnation are often used interchangeably. However, eminent domain gives the government the power to put private property for public use, while land condemnation refers to land expropriation. Once the government has put your property on notice, the agency will appraise the estimated value of your property, offer compensation, and start the building project on the property. In such instances, you’re encouraged to contact an eminent domain attorney as soon as possible before accepting the deal to ensure due diligence is followed and your rights are protected throughout the process.

How Eminent Domain Works When Claiming A Private Property

Before a government agency takes over your property through eminent domain, they have to follow due process, including taking you through the seizure process and presenting just compensation. But it’s not just governmental entities or agencies that receive this power – federal law also provides the same ability to some private organizations that include the following:

  • Corporations or private developers mandated to construct public works such as railroads, parks, electric power lines, bridges, water supply or public roads, telephone lines, etc.
  • Institutions requiring the use of the land to connect an adequate water supply
  • Railroad companies
  • Franchised public transportation companies requiring the space to construct or expand an operating station

Local public entities such as city or county governments typically receive the power of eminent domain to carry out the following purposes:

  • Open, widen, extend or improve sidewalks and roadways
  • Build or renovate parks and recreational areas
  • Establish or improve public sewer and drainage system
  • Build, expand or enhance public buildings, including health facilities, cemeteries, or learning institutions
  • Reclaim historical property
  • Improve drainage programs and renovate natural waterways

When a private or public agency targets your property for any of the above projects, the expropriation process must be carried out by an entity to whom the federal government has bestowed the power of eminent domain to fulfill a public mandate.

Determining Just Compensation For Private Property

The federal government and the state recognize the rights of a private property owner whose land is under condemnation and set for expropriation through eminent domain. Such a person is entitled to a just and fair compensation according to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 40A-63.

The amount of compensation for your property depends on the property’s market value before the land condemnation and eminent domain petition is filed. However, if only a small fraction or portion of the property was required, the property owner will be compensated according to the greater market value for the part taken. Additionally, consideration is given for any existing resources on the property, such as commercial timber, buildings, etc., and their total costs. Working with an eminent attorney is necessary to ensure that these calculations and estimates are correctly done and that you receive fair compensation.

What To Do When You’re Issued With A Notice of Eminent Domain

If you receive a notice of eminent domain from a public or private condemner seeking to use your property, you need to ensure your rights are protected and your property is not unlawfully expropriated. You also need to know when it’s necessary to invoke the Fifth Amendment to facilitate all this. 

Since land condemnation is a frustrating and costly process, you shouldn’t walk through it alone. It would help if you had someone by your side who’s well versed with the law and able to represent your interests. That’s why we recommend working with an experienced eminent domain lawyer who’ll detect unconstitutional land condemnation and save you from illegal loss of your property. Otherwise, if the condemnation is legal, the attorney will ensure every due process is followed, and you receive just and fair compensation.