If you own property that has been deemed necessary for public use, such as to expand roads, build a school, or run sewer lines, state and federal agencies can claim eminent domain. While government agencies (or, in some cases, utility companies and private developers whose projects have been approved as economically beneficial for the area) have to offer compensation for your property, they often try to get property owners to accept amounts far less than what the property is worth.
If you have received a notification or there is a state or federal project that may encroach on your Raleigh property, you aren’t alone against these government entities. The eminent domain attorneys at Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler & Thomas are on your side to provide you with the counsel and advocacy to help you receive fair compensation for your property.
Understanding Eminent Domain and Land Condemnation
Eminent domain is the term for the state or federal government to take private property or land and claim it for public use, as long as the private property owner is given just compensation as laid out in the “Takings Clause” under the Fifth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution gives state and local governments the same right to claim private property for public use, but it does put limits on government power.
Public Use Projects in Eminent Domain Cases
The government can only claim eminent domain when the land is necessary for public use. This includes:
- Infrastructure construction, such as roads or bridges
- Government buildings, like a post office or school
- Expansion of a park or creating a federally protected wildlife area
Government agencies may also act on behalf of private companies, such as in the case of purchasing blighted property for redevelopment.
While eminent domain is the government’s right to claim land for public use, land condemnation is the actual process of taking the property and compensating the property owner. An eminent domain attorney will work on behalf of the property owner to ensure he or she receives a fair market value, even if the case has to go before a judge.
The Process of Eminent Domain in North Carolina
Much of the cases our eminent domain attorneys work on are with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) for road and infrastructure construction. The process generally follows this structure:
First, the government agency will announce the project and the affected private property. Often, they will reach out to the land owner to let them know their property is in the area of public use, but they may not. As soon as you are aware that your property may fall under eminent domain, it’s important to connect with a Raleigh land condemnation attorney immediately.
Next, a government inspector will appraise the land and take their findings to the agency or department. They will review the report or information and create an offer to send to the property owners. As soon as you receive an offer, it’s important to show it to your attorney for review.
Our eminent domain attorneys always carefully evaluate every offer, making a point to not automatically reject the first offer. In fact, if the proposal is fair, we often recommend that clients accept it. An early settlement is usually in everyone’s best interests.
If the initial offer is rejected, the next step is to work with an independent inspection and a professional financial appraisal. This appraisal usually looks at the whole financial picture. For example, if NCDOT wants to take part of your land to build a road, that taking might adversely affect the value of the remaining property.
During negotiations, if you choose to accept the offer, the case ends, you transfer the deed, and the matter is closed. However, if you choose to not accept the offer, the case moves forward.
If a Settlement Is Not Reached
At this point, the government agency has the right to take possession of the disputed land and place the financial compensation in an escrow account. If you choose not to contest the notice, the case is over. If you do contest the notice, the matter usually goes before an ad hoc commission. This commission reviews all the evidence, including the initial report and subsequent independent evaluation. The commission may also hear testimony from you and additional witnesses.
If the current owner accepts the commission’s conclusion, the case ends. If a Raleigh land condemnation attorney files an appeal, the matter usually goes to trial.
Bear in mind that a settlement may occur at any time. As mentioned, settlement often happens rather early in the process. Other eminent domain matters settle almost literally on the courthouse steps right before trial begins.
One final note. Once the eminent domain process begins, it usually cannot be stopped. In most cases, the government will take the land sooner or later. The only issue is the amount of compensation. In some instances, courts have held that the attempted taking was completely unjustified. But in 2005’s Kelo v. City of New London, the United States Supreme Court broadly defined the right of eminent domain. So, such results are very rare.
Why You Need an Eminent Domain & Land Condemnation Attorney in Raleigh
There may be no way to stop the eminent domain process once it starts, but property owners still have important rights. Having legal representation ensures you understand every step of the process, whether there is an easement on the land or other issues that may affect your property rights.
An eminent domain lawyer will also look after your best interests and will prevent you from feeling intimidated or overwhelmed during the process. While the state appraiser is acting on the agency’s behalf, we’re working on yours to make sure you don’t feel pressured into taking a settlement or compensation that is less than what you are entitled to.
After you receive a notice of eminent domain, it’s important to connect with an attorney because there are actions you may inadvertently take that could damage your case. These include:
- Filing amended property tax returns or other documents to indicate a lower property value.
- Signing documents, such as a right of access, without your eminent domain attorney reviewing them.
- Thinking you don’t have rights or that it’s not worth fighting your case.
Understanding Inverse Condemnation
Inverse condemnation occurs when the government takes private property without paying compensation to the property owner, so the owner has the legal right to sue the agency. It’s called “inverse” because the plaintiff and defendant are switched – in a traditional eminent domain case, the government is the plaintiff, but in an inverse condemnation case, the private property owner is the plaintiff.
Typically, a property owner can sue in the event of:
- Physically seizing property without providing just compensation,
- Reduction of value to the extent that the property is no longer commercially viable, or
- An illegal quid pro quo (e.g. the state refuses to give the owner a building permit unless the owner gives the state an easement).
Your eminent domain attorney will look at the circumstance surrounding how the government built on your property, claimed it for other use, or negatively impacted the property economically and work for you to ensure you are properly compensated.
Reviews from Our Eminent Domain and Land Condemnation Clients
When the NC DOT decided to take my land in Onslow County, I knew I needed the help of a law firm with experience in eminent domain cases that was not afraid to take a case to jury verdict anywhere in the State of North Carolina. Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler & Thomas was that firm. Their skill in putting together and presenting my case was impressive. I highly recommend them.
– Carl B. from Jacksonville, NC
I was notified by the Department of Transportation that my business and commercial property were being acquired by eminent domain for a highway project. I realized that I was not going to be able to get what I thought was fair compensation without help. I hired Kirk Kirk and immediately realized that they were extremely experienced in dealing with this area of law. The results exceeded my expectations. I would highly recommend them to anyone dealing with eminent domain issues.
– Dolan B. from Goldsboro, NC
I cannot say enough about the great job Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler & Thomas did for my family when a municipality decided to cut off road access to our family’s land in Nash County. We knew they were experienced in fighting for the rights of landowners but were even more impressed with the passion they showed in defending our family. They really went the extra mile to make sure we were treated fairly. If the government decides it wants your land, these are the lawyers to call.
– Joan D. from Zebulon, NC
Contact an Eminent Domain Attorney in the Raleigh Area
Eminent domain is an extremely complex matter, and you have important legal rights throughout this process. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Raleigh land condemnation attorney, contact Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler & Thomas, LLC. Fill out the form below or call us at (919) 615-2473.
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