Each state has different statutes and condemnation procedures. For this reason (among others), it is important for property owners to consult with an attorney experienced in eminent domain. Although procedures vary from state to state (and agency to agency), this property owner timeline in eminent domain is designed to map the typical process a property owner faces when a public project impacts their property.
1 Condemnor Initiates Initial Project Plans: The Condemnor (e.g. a city, state or utility) identifies the need for a project. The Condemnor studies, plans and maps out the project. The Condemnor then presents these maps or plans to the public, either online, at public meetings or both. The Condemnor invites affected property owners and/or people of the community to a public meeting. At the meeting, the Condemnor will give the public information regarding the project, including how many property owners the project will impact. Typically, at such public meetings, the Condemnor will also make available the timeline of acquiring funds for the project, starting and completing right of way acquisition and construction.
2 Right of Way Begins: Once right of way activites begin, the Condemnor will send out a letter telling the property owner which appraisal firm the Condemnor has selected to value the owner’s property and when the appraiser will contact the owner. In most cases, the appraiser will want the property owner in attendance at the time of the appraisal. It is not, however, a requirement that the property owner attend.
3 Receiving an Offer: Two to three months after the Condemnor’s appraiser views the property, the Condemnor will make a property owner an offer for the acquisition. The Condemnor may make the offer sooner or later depending on the urgency of the project. Once a property owner receives an offer, they should consult with an eminent domain attorney. Almost all eminent domain attorneys will review an offer at no cost to the owner. Most Condemnors will include the appraisal report with their offer, but there are some exceptions. For example, the Departments of Transportation in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia do not disclose their appraisal in conjunction with an offer. If the condemnation is in any of these four states, do not expect the Condemnor to submit an appraisal report with its offer.
4 Post Offer Options: If a property owner considers the Condemnor’s offer to be fair, they will accept it and out timeline concludes. If the owner determines the offer is unfair, there are several options. An owner could, of course, immediately consult with an attorney, which we recommend. Some owners will instead attempt to negotiate a compromise. But be advised that the Condemnor usually employs agents familiar with negotiating for the acquisition of real estate. An owner must also be aware that the Condemnor always retains the right to stop negotiations and condemn the property owner’s property. If the Condemnor and the owner do not reach an agreement, the Codnemnor will typically deposits its estimated compensation with the local Court or pay the property owner what the Condemnor itself determined to be the fair market value. The Condemnor will record a document with the register of deeds office or the local court. This document often has legal effect of transferring ownership to the Condemnor thus giving the Condemnor the right to possess the property and proceed with its project.
5 Appeal: The property owner has the ability to contest the amount they were offered. While in some states the Condemnor initiates the lawsuit thus triggering the owner’s right to pursue additional compensation; in others, the property owner must take an affirmative action (usually filing a legal document) to preserve his/her right to contest the Condemnor’s estimated damages. States that require the property owner to initiate the process differ in their deadlines for initiating the process. Some deadlines are relatively short, so consult with an attorney.
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