Indiana Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law Attorneys
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the government or a quasi-government agency – like a power or water company – the power to take private property for public use. This Constitutional right is called eminent domain. There are many reasons why the government or a quasi-government agency may choose to exercise the right of eminent domain including the building of a road or highway, the building of a school or library, or gaining access to private property in the form of easements for utilities.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also states the government is required to pay “just” compensation for the property that it is taking. However, what the government considers “just” and what the property owner considers “just” may not be the same thing. This is where an experienced eminent domain attorney can help!
The legal term for the taking of property under the right of eminent domain is condemnation. Attorneys who practice condemnation law represent people and businesses in eminent domain actions against the government. Of course, some also act on behalf of the government!
The Eminent Domain / Condemnation Process
Eminent Domain Project Design
Once a project is approved, the government hires an engineering firm to create the design for the project. As the project takes shape, whether it’s for a utility easement or a highway, engineers will identify real estate that will be affected. In some cases an entire parcel of property will be required and in others, only part of the property will be taken. Unfortunately the landowner doesn’t have much say in whether all or only some of their property will be taken.
Eminent Domain Appraisal Process
Once the government identifies the needed properties for a project, an appraiser is hired to determine the market value for each property and provide to the government the necessary information to put together an offer. In some cases, the government may assign more than one appraiser to value a property. Often, the appraiser will not contact the property owner. Instead, they will do a “drive-by” to inspect the property and will complete their report through the use of public records. Because of this method, many property owners believe that the market value of their property is not fairly determined.
Eminent Domain Property Offer
If your land will be taken by the government, you will typically be contacted by a buying agent with a purchase offer, also referred to as a uniform purchase offer. The buying agent’s main job is to get you to accept the government’s offer for your land. A buying agent may put significant pressure on you to accept the offer and not allow you much time to consider the proposal. They are not able to provide you with legal advice regarding the condemnation proceeding. This is another reason for you to consult with an attorney familiar with eminent domain and condemnation proceedings. An attorney can advise you of your legal rights and options and help you negotiate with the buying agent. Short deadlines can cause issues for landowners so it’s important for you to reach out for legal advice as early as possible if you think your land may be subject to eminent domain.
Eminent Domain Disputes
If you do not accept the government’s offer to purchase your land, a condemnation complaint will be filed with the court. If you have not hired an attorney at this point, you should strongly consider doing so to make certain your rights are not violated. An attorney will help you determine “just” compensation for your property and advocate on your behalf.
Time is of the essence in a condemnation proceeding. When the government exercises its right of eminent domain, its main goal is to obtain private property for as little money as possible and as quickly as possible to avoid any pushback from landowners. If you fail to take appropriate action in a timely manner, the government may gain access to your property and you may not receive as much money as you would have had you been prepared.
The condemnation process can be very quick, if you accept the government’s offer, or it can take several years. One of the most important issues to government and quasi-government agencies who are taking your land is how quickly they can take possession of the real estate that they need. The government can take possession of your land while the condemnation dispute makes its way through the courts. Because of this, they may drag their feet and delay the proceeding as much as possible after they have gained possession of the property. Having an experienced eminent domain attorney can help move your case towards a conclusion as quickly as possible while maximizing your recovery without any unnecessary delay caused by a condemning agency’s lawyers.
When should you talk with an eminent domain lawyer?
It’s never too early to contact an attorney to discuss your concerns. Landowners who think they may be impacted in an eminent domain action can contact an attorney as soon as they learn of a project that could impact their land. Attorneys who practice condemnation law involving eminent domain actions know the process and can explain it in detail to the individual landowner along with providing an explanation of the legal rights and options that landowners have. A consultation can be provided before the attorney is retained to represent the landowner. In other words, you don’t have to wait until you receive an offer on your land to contact an attorney.
How an eminent domain lawyer helps
Hiring an attorney will relieve the pressure you may feel from the buying agent pushing you to accept an offer for your property. Your attorney will work with and hire real estate appraisers and other experts to maximize your recovery and, if necessary, prepare for trial. Although compensation is usually the most important factor for a landowner, there may be other concerns that an attorney can assist with including access issues, signage, relocation and zoning.
Contact our eminent domain and condemnation attorneys to discuss your situation. Cohen & Malad, LLP attorneys have extensive experience and knowledge of eminent domain law and issues. We have handled hundreds of eminent domain cases involving agricultural, residential, industrial, commercial and special use properties.