Oklahoma Eminent Domain Law
Few issues evoke such strong opposition as the taking of private land through eminent domain for a public use. In most cases, you won’t be able to prevent the government from acquiring your land, but you are entitled to just compensation under eminent domain law. Learn more about eminent domain generally and what you’re entitled to receive, or continue reading to learn about the Oklahoma domain process, your rights as a property owner and hiring an Oklahoma eminent domain attorney.
We are an Oklahoma eminent domain law firm that only represents property owners, never the government or condemning authority. We are licensed to practice law in Oklahoma and we have experience conducting trials and appeals for property owners affected by eminent domain in Oklahoma. We help property owners who are impacted by highway and transit projects, pipeline projects, natural gas storage facility projects, redevelopment projects, acquisitions for municipal buildings, inverse condemnation, regulatory takings and much more.
Did you know that most Oklahoma eminent domain attorneys work on a contingent fee basis? With this fee structure, the attorney assumes the risk of earning a fee. Also, the government or condemning authority is required to pay a property owners attorney’s fees in eminent domain cases if certain criteria are met.
Oklahoma Eminent Domain Process
In the state of Oklahoma, the eminent domain process can only be stopped if the proposed taking does not meet the requirements for public purpose or public necessity. If you have determined that the proposed taking does meet these requirements, then you should learn more about the Oklahoma eminent domain process.
Remember, even if the government has the right to condemn your property, they cannot dictate the price they are willing to pay; compensation is determined by the highest and best use laws for your property.
We’ve provided the following information regarding the Oklahoma eminent domain process for takings that meet the criteria for public use and necessity. These takings usually occur for highway expansion projects such as road widening projects and intersection reconstruction projects. In some cases, the takings occur for utility projects such as sewer expansion projects and railroad projects.
Extended explanations for each item in the flow chart are included below. Please be aware that the flow chart and explanations are simply an overview of the Oklahoma eminent domain process and should not be used as a tool to take matters into your own hands.
1. Government Announces Project and Properties Affected
Typically during project development, the condemning authority (whether that agency is the Department of Transportation, or a City/County Planning Division, etc.) will hold public meetings to inform the public of the upcoming project and how this project will affect private property.
2. Property Owner Hires Attorney
Frequently an owner will only receive full compensation by allowing condemnation to occur. In condemnation an owner can show that the rules for highest and best use will produce a higher price than the amount offered by the government. Property owners should hire an eminent domain attorney to assist with their additional damages claim.
3. Government Inspects and Values Property
Real property shall be appraised before negotiations, and the owner or his representative shall be given opportunity to accompany the appraiser on his inspection (27 Okl.St.Ann. § 13(2)).
Keep in mind that these appraisers often have long-standing relationships with the government, and their appraisals may contain errors such as using incorrect comparables, or they may not value your property at its “highest and best use”. Frequently, they ignore severance issues or dramatically understate their significance and impact.
4. Government Makes Offer to Property Owner
Before the initiation of negotiations for real property, an amount shall be established which is reasonably believed to be just compensation and such amount shall be promptly offered for the property. In no event shall the amount offered be less than the approved appraisal of the fair market value of such real property (27 Okl.St.Ann § 13(3)). Every reasonable effort shall be made to acquire real property by negotiation (27 Okl.St.Ann. § 13(1)). Additionally, the owner should be provided with written statement giving the basis for the amount established as just compensation (27 Okl.St.Ann. § 13(2)).
5. Attorney Evaluates Offer
After the condemning authority makes an offer, the property owner’s attorney will evaluate the appraisal and offer to determine if it represents just compensation. If the attorney finds errors in the condemning authority’s valuation, then they will determine how best to proceed.
6. Determine Negotiation Strategy
The negotiation phase initiates after the offer is made and before condemnation occurs. During this time, parties can reach a settlement agreement before the government files for condemnation.
In no event shall the time of condemnation be advanced, on negotiations or condemnation and the deposit of funds in court for the use of the owner be deferred, or any other coercive action be taken to compel an agreement on the price to be paid for the property (27 Okl.St.Ann § 13(7)).
7. Select Appraiser to Determine True Property Value
During the negotiation phase, a second appraisal must be done on the property in order to show the full complement of damages, including those not addressed by the condemning authority’s appraiser. This appraisal is submitted as evidence supporting the property owner’s claim for additional compensation and can be used as evidence during trial.
It is highly recommended to consult with an eminent domain attorney prior to obtaining a second appraisal. Any and all appraisals done on the property to determine the owner’s opinion of value must be submitted to the condemning authority. If you hire an appraiser on your own who is not experienced in valuing property in eminent domain cases, this appraiser could overlook damages and ultimately ruin your claim. An eminent domain attorney will thoroughly review the initial appraisal and determine its strengths and weaknesses. The attorney will then indicate a selection for the most qualified appraiser to value the property in question.
Visit our Resources page, under Why Act Now to read an example of how hiring the wrong appraiser can hurt your claim. Make sure you consult with an eminent domain attorney before hiring an appraiser on your own.
8. Property Owner Settles with the Government
If the property owner is satisfied with the offer, they can sign the final settlement agreement, therefore waiving their right to pursue additional damages. At this point in time, the case is complete.
9. Deed is Transferred
Once the final settlement papers are executed by the property owner, the deed is transferred to the condemning authority. It is at this time that ownership is transferred from the property owner to the condemning authority.
10. Owner’s Case is Done
The owner is paid in full, the condemning authority owns the property, and the owner’s case is completely done. The property owner can no longer file a claim to challenge the taking or to receive additional compensation.
11. Property Owner Does Not Settle With the Government
If after negotiations, the property owner is not satisfied with the government’s offer of just compensation, they can refuse that offer.
12. Government Initiates Eminent Domain Proceeding
If negotiations can not be reached, the condemning authority will petition to initiate the eminent domain process. The Appointment of commissioners is by petition of either party (66 Okl.St.Ann. § 53; 69 Okl.St.Ann. § 1708).
13. Commissioners Appointed to Determine Compensation
After giving the property owner ten (10) days notice, the judge will appoint 3 disinterested landowners as commissioners to inspect the property and consider the just compensation to which the owner is entitled, and their assessment of just compensation will be reported in writing to the clerk of the court (69 Okl.St.Ann. § 1708 (b)(1)).
*Note: this is also cited under 66 Okl.St.Ann. § 53, which comes from the procedural requirements for railroads. Railroad procedure also applies to: corporation commission, see Title 52, § 148; gas and electric companies, see Title 27, § 7; highways, see Title 69, § 1203; independent school districts, acquisition of property for stadium, etc., see Title 70, § 821.7; lessees of oil land, see Title 64, § 288; local governments, see Title 27, § 5; private persons or corporations, see Title 27, § 6; telegraph and telephone lines, see Title 18, § 601; water-power companies, see Title 27, § 4; waterworks, municipal, see Title 11, § 37-103). The specific Highways procedure also contains this explicit provision at 69 Okl.St.Ann. § 1708.
14. Owner Accepts Commissioner’s Award
If property owner is satisfied with the commissioners offer, they can accept that offer and waive their right to a jury trial.
15. Owner Appeals Commissioner’s Award
Within 30 days of the commissioners’ award, either party may file exceptions to the award to be reviewed by the court. Within 60 days of the award, either party may file exceptions requesting a jury trial on compensation (66 Okl.St.Ann. § 55(a)). The time limits for filing an exception and demand for jury trial shall be calculated from the date the report of commissioners is filed in the case (69 Okl.St.Ann. § 1708 (b)(3)).
16. Government Deposits Award, Government Takes Title and Possession
Once condemnor deposits commissioner’s award, it is recorded and has the effect of the recording of a deed. At this time, the condemnor may then take possession of the property (66 Okl.St.Ann. § 53(c)). The owner is entitled to receive deposit without prejudicing their right to challenge the commissioners award of compensation (66 Okl.St.Ann. § 54).
17. Jury Trial on Compensation
The commissioner’s report may be reviewed by the district court, upon written exceptions filed by either party, in the clerk’s office within thirty (30) days after the filing of such report. The court will issue and order either in confirmation, rejection or by ordering a new appraisement on good cause shown. Or, either party may within sixty (60) days after the filing of the commissioners report, file with the clerk a written demand for a trial by jury, in which case the amount of damages shall be assessed by a jury, and the trial shall be conducted. Note: If party demanding trial does not recover a verdict more favorable to him than the assessment of the commissioners, all costs in the district court may be taxed against him (66 Okl.St.Ann. § 55(a)).
If you have questions regarding the eminent domain process in Oklahoma, contact us for more information. The eminent domain process in the state of Oklahoma is complicated, and if you are undergoing eminent domain and want to make sure you are justly compensated, you should speak to an eminent domain attorney. Speaking to an eminent domain attorney regarding your case will keep you informed of your rights, the eminent domain process, and whether or not your attorney’s fees will be paid for by the state of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Property Rights
The eminent domain abuse dialogue often centers on policy issues involving the right to take property for economic development and blight. Since the landmark case of Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, many states have taken measures to help curb eminent domain abuse. Some states were very successful at passing meaningful reform, and other states failed to pass any legislation at all. Most states fall in the middle by passing legislation that looks good on paper but does little to level the playing field between property owners and the government.
Since the decision by the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London many states across the country have taken measures to help protect the rights of private ownership. The controversial Kelo decision held that a local government can take the private property of one person and give it to another private entity. While the Court’s ruling was seen by many as a serious blow to citizen’s constitutionally protected rights of private property ownership, the decision prompted a number of states to initiate legislative reform to help curb eminent domain abuse.
The Castle Coalition has released a report, grading each of the states based on their efforts to protect private property owners and their rights based on changes in their respective state laws. The Castle Coalition is the Institute for Justice’s nationwide grassroots property rights activism project that teaches home and small business owners how to protect themselves and stand up to abuse by governments and developers who seek to use eminent domain to take private property for their own gain. The Castle Coalition gave a letter grade of an F to the state of Oklahoma for property rights.
In 2007, House Joint Resolution 157 was introduced into the state legislature, which would have addressed the vague language concerning the definition of “blight”, however the bill failed to pass.
Hiring an Eminent Domain Attorney in Oklahoma
The most blatant form of eminent domain abuse occurs when the government or condemning authority makes a ‘low ball’ offer. This scenario invariably requires the property owner to hire an attorney to obtain just compensation. Fortunately, the vast majority of eminent domain attorneys work on a contingent fee basis, meaning they charge a percentage of the additional money they obtain for the property owner. Also, Oklahoma has passed legislation requiring the condemning authority to pay the property owner’s attorneys fees and costs in eminent domain cases if certain criteria are met.
Are Eminent Domain Attorney’s Fees Recoverable in Oklahoma?
Attorney’s fees and reasonable costs may be paid for by the government or condemning authority if the jury award exceeds the commissioner’s award by at least 10% (66 Okl.St.Ann. § 55(d)). Also, attorney’s fees and other reasonable fees may be awarded if the condemning authority abandons the proceeding, the final determination is that the property cannot be acquired by eminent domain, or if the property owner is successful at pursuing an inverse condemnation claim (27 O.S § 12 (1971).
The motivation to negotiate honestly, and even avoid low ball offers to begin with, increases significantly if the condemning authority can be liable for the attorney’s fees incurred by the property owner. This statute helps level the playing field between the government and property owners, especially when small claimants can hire an attorney to help them obtain just compensation.
Very few attorneys can claim expertise in the area of eminent domain law. If you’re affected by eminent domain, you should obtain a consultation from an eminent domain lawyer so that you know and understand your rights before taking any action. Remember, the government is like any buyer, they will want to purchase your property as cheaply as possible, and their appraisers may neglect to consider damages that can lead to a larger amount of just compensation.
Oklahoma receives the lowest grade because of the loosely defined term “blight”, and the fact that condemning authorities have more power over using blighted property for commercial and economic developments. Oklahoma needs substantial legislative reform in order to protect property owners, and to tighten the definition of blight; including how and when it should be used.
Questions about Oklahoma Eminent Domain Law or if you’re interested in a free consultation, contact us today! If you want to call us, our main number is 866-339-7242. We look forward to hearing from you.