Knowing Your Rights

Receiving a notice for eminent domain of your property can be frightening and overwhelming. Even though it is unlikely you will be able to keep your property once proceedings have begun, you do have rights. Understanding these rights will help you to make the best of a bad situation.

Due Process

You have probably heard the term due process many times in the news, and you might be wondering what that has to do with eminent domain. The concept of due process means that if the government is going to take anything from you – your property here – that they have to give you proper notice and the ability to have legal proceedings in the matter.

That means that once you have received notice of condemnation, you have the right to institute legal proceedings to make the government prove why they need your property and that they pay you fairly. Let’s look at each in turn.

What does it look like when this is not done properly? If the government or a private entity begins work on your property without informing you of the condemnation, you have not been given due process. For more on this, see our Inverse Condemnation article.

Necessary Use

As we discussed in the Understanding the Process article, in order for the government to be able to take your property, the property must be necessary to fulfill a public use. For more information on what public use is, see Takings for Public Use.

Furthermore, the state or government agency cannot take more of your property than is necessary for the project. For example, if you own a large farm, the government cannot take the entire farm just to cut a road on a tiny portion of the property. Likewise, if a power company has been granted the authority to put power poles up on the edge of your land, they can only take that land that is necessary for the project.

What if you disagree with the reason that the government wants to take your property? Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to argue that the taking is not for a proper purpose. You should shift your focus to making sure you are justly compensated for the taking.

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Just Compensation

When your property has been condemned, you have the right to be fairly compensated for the value of your loss. The first step in this process is the appraisal. An appraiser, hired by the condemning agency, will 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. This is called the Fair Market Value.

Unfortunately, the government will want to pay as little for your property as possible. So what should you look out for? If you are not given a copy of the appraisal report, that should be a red flag. If the appraiser tells you that you must accept the money immediately or that you risk not getting paid at all, you should be very wary. You may want to have your own appraisal done before you accept anything.

You may also be entitled to additional compensation not included in the appraisal for moving expenses and other costs. For more on this, see our Condemnation and Compensation for Relocation Costs articles.