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Ombudsman Assist Property Owners in Eminent Domain Disputes

Property owners impacted by eminent domain have few options. In almost all cases, consulting with an attorney is always recommended. In a few states including Missouri, Virginia and Utah, there is additional assistance from an Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is a neutral, non-partisan mediator that protects the property rights of the citizens. They help citizens and government agencies understand and comply with property rights laws, resolves disputes, and advocates for fairness and balance when private rights conflict with public needs.

The Ombudsman Office has been available to assist owners in Utah for years. Other states are starting to add Ombudsman to assist property owners impacted by Eminent Domain, such as Virginia. Mid last year, VDOT made a change in the law to have Ombudsman handle disputes in VA. The VDOT website it states, “The mission of the Ombudsman is to provide independent and objective review of limited VDOT Right of Way actions, specific to Eminent Domain, that impacts constituents of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Connecticut had an Office of an Obudsman from 2007 to 2009, then closed due to budget constraints. In a statement on its website, “the Connecticut Office of Ombudsman For Property Rights announced the closure of the office effective September 8, 2009 as a result of budgetary constraints. Robert S. Poliner who held the position of the first and only Connecticut Ombudsman for Property Rights served only two years.” Mr. Poliner wrote in his online farewell letter to the citizens of Connecticut: “When I was appointed, my goal was to increase respect for property rights at all levels and in all branches of our state’s government. I hope the assistance I gave to hundreds of citizens and government agency personnel in the last two years has contributed in some small way to that goal.” Mr. Poliner’s online letter references the many resources available to property owners on the website including links to the statutes pertaining to eminent domain, frequently asked questions and the many newsletters and reports authored by Mr. Poliner over the past two years. However, it is clear that Connecticut property owners facing condemnation after the closure of the Office of Ombudsman For Property Rights will no longer have the resource of Mr. Poliner himself as mediator and advocate.

In general the Ombudsman assists in a variety of different ways. They are to inform and Educate, more specifically, they can answer questions, explain the law and legal processes, and review options available to solve and avoid problems. During negotiations, the Ombudsman can be a liason between property owners and local or state officials to discuss a matter or potential dispute. The Office will attempt to help everyone understand the perspective of the others involved, and try to find an objective resolution. The Ombudsman can convene a meeting with the parties, and facilitate settlement discussions, typically in Mediation. At the request of the property owner, the Ombudsman can arrange arbitration, and require the condemning entity to participate. A neutral third party decides the matter, after considering the positions of all parties. The Ombudsman can be an adviser, more specifically provide Advisory Opinions. They can research specific issues of land use law, and prepare an Advisory Opinion that attempts to resolve the dispute in accordance with the prevailing law.

If you’re a property owner impacted by eminent domain and have questions regarding the timeline, process or anything else, give us a call at (866) 693-6572 for a no cost consultation.