What is condemnation? You may be familiar with the term, but in the legal world, condemnation is a very specific action taken by the government to trigger the taking of a piece of land for eminent domain. The government condemns properties to take possession of private property and convert it to public uses such as schools, roads, and community redevelopment.

However, eminent domain is not a free-for-all that allows the government to take anyone’s property at any time. The U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions have put in place a set of rules to make sure that if your property is condemned, that you are given the right to dispute the taking and the right to be paid a fair price for your land. If you were on the property every day you would see it occur in this order:

  • You will usually first learn about an eminent domain project when the government starts looking for a spot for their new project; a school, road, or building that they want put on your property. You will see government or contractor trucks out reviewing your area. (or at least will affect your property greatly). You may even attend some public meetings about the project.
  • You may receive a right of entry letter in the mail. This is government asking to come onto your property to measure out what they want to take.
  • Next you will see some people with flashy vests and hardhats putting stakes or flags across your property to show the different areas that will be taken.
  • Then you will have an appraiser come to your property who will get pictures of the property and any improvements on the property to determine what your property is currently worth and also to determine what your property will be worth once the government is finished with it.
  • After what is often an inadequate offer, the state or federal agency will condemn your property via a civil action in court where they deposit the amount of money they say your land is worth with the clerk of court and file a paper with the Register of Deeds Office to officially take your property (or a portion of it). This is the formal start of the eminent domain process. At this point, the government has immediate rights to your property as they describe in their paperwork and you have immediate rights to the funds that they have deposited. However, this is not the end of it.
  • Once you have been given your notice of civil action, you can withdraw the funds from the clerk of court and challenge the government’s value in court. This means that you can recover further monies from the government by showing that your property is worth more, or is damaged more, than what the government believes. This can be done through settlement or litigation.

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Unfortunately, once your property has been condemned, there is very little you can do to stop the process. As long as the government has met their requirement of giving you all proper notices and they intend to use your property for a public use, you are probably not going to be able to keep the property.

However, if you find that the government has started using or damaging your property without giving you any notice or any compensation, they may be committing an inverse condemnation. This can happen when the government or some other condemnor (like a municipality or utility company) performs a project that affect your property without paying you for your property first or filing the right eminent domain proceedings. Sometimes the property may be flooded, a utility wire put in the wrong place, a ditch dug where it shouldn’t be, or it may simply be over regulated. If this happens, you may be able to sue for the loss in market value of the entire property because of the damages done to the small section of the property.