In eminent domain, all states require that before a taking can occur, the condemning authority must conduct negotiations with the property owner and their eminent domain attorney to attempt at completing the acquisition amicably and avoid the use of a formal eminent domain taking. With the understanding that this mandate is contained within the statues, property owners should expect direct contact from the condemning authorities to discuss their willingness to sell their property outright.
Should you be concerned about what you say when speaking with the condemning authorities? The first thing to appreciate is the condemning authorities are playing in their arena. Eminent domain is something that they do everyday. They know what the rules are, they know how the rules affect them, and they also know how the rules affect you. With this in mind, there are three things to consider when speaking to the authorities:
1. Do not be intimidated
2. Understand that you are not required to speak to the Condemning Authority
3. Anything you say can be used against you
Based upon reports we hear from property owners, we have repeatedly found that condemning authorities use an atmosphere or environment of intimidation by impressing upon property owners that eminent domain is objectionable and should be avoided. Their solution of course is an amicable transaction. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of not being intimidated. As a property owner, you have rights that can not be taken from you if you assert them. The eminent domain statutes are designed to give you the property owner protection and rights. In some states, those rights can be extremely powerful to the extent that in your pursuit of seeking just compensation you have the ability to recover the attorney’s fees and all the costs that you incur. Instead of being intimidated, empower yourself by learning and exercising your rights in eminent domain law, and always speak to an eminent domain attorney to determine how much money you are entitled to receive. You might not need to hire an attorney, but it is always good to at least consult with one.
Although we don’t always recommend this, you should know that you are not required to speak to the condemning authorities. If they are creating an environment of intimidation, and if they are not considering your concerns; or if you are uncertain of your rights at the time they begin discussing the acquisition with you, then you have the right to ignore them. The condemning authority always has the right to exercise the power of eminent domain. I would recommend that you at least consult with an expert prior to either speaking with or ignoring the condemning authorities.
Thirdly, if you do choose to speak to the condemning authority or a representative, be mindful that anything you say can be used against you as an admission if you can not reach an agreement and ultimately file a claim. I’m not saying that every statement you make will be detrimental to your position, but I do want to emphasize the severity of making statements that might be harmful to you. Similar to hiring the wrong the appraiser to evaluate your property, making the wrong statement to the condemning authority can ultimately jeopardize your chances at receiving the full amount of compensation allowed under the rules of eminent domain.
Because property owners do not have the same degree of knowledge on eminent domain as the condemning authority or eminent domain attorneys do, it’s often difficult to know what should and should not be said. Because of this, you should always at least speak to eminent domain attorney prior to entering into discussions with the condemning authority. In a future blog, I will provide several real life examples of property owners we’ve talked to who have ruined a good claim by making the wrong statements to the condemning authority.