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PA Eminent Domain Explained

Is the government attempting to acquire your property? When it comes to eminent domain, the government is playing in their arena; they do this every day. They know what the rules are, they know how the rules affect them, and they also know how the rules affect you. If the government is taking your land, you should learn more about your rights in the eminent domain process.

Your initial question might be, can I stop the process? Without special circumstances, you generally 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 Pennsylvania eminent domain process, your rights as a property owner and hiring a Pennsylvania eminent domain attorney.

We are a nationwide eminent domain law firm with experience handling cases in Pennsylvania and elsewhere around the country. Also, we only represent property owners, never the government or condemning authority.

While many eminent domain lawyers in Pennsylvania only represent property owners in the metro areas, we represent landowners anywhere in the state, and we have experience pursuing cases against PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission. Are you concerned about being treated fairly in the process? Do you think that the government’s offer is too low? Contact us for a free consultation; we’ll review your case at no cost and help you determine how best to proceed. Also, continue reading to learn more about your rights and what to expect when the condemning authority attempts to acquire your property.

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Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Process

In the state of Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania 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.

Pennsylvania 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 a B to the state of Pennsylvania for property rights.

In 2006, Senate Bill 881 was passed by the General Assembly in Pennsylvania. This bill, titled the “Property Rights Protection Act”, introduced a clearly tightened definition of the term “blight”. The bill prohibits the taking of private property for private enterprises, while also placing a timeline and limits on the use of the term blight.

In addition, this bill states that agricultural property cannot be deemed blight unless the Agricultural and Condemnation Approval Board determines that eminent domain is necessary to protect the health and safety of a community or neighborhood. However, the bill has some drawbacks concerning certain municipalities and counties in the state that have authority to condemn property that have already been deemed blighted under urban renewal laws (not to be confused with the power to deem a new property blighted). Just a few of the excluded cities are Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and luckily this provision will expire within the next decade.

Hiring an Eminent Domain Attorney in Pennsylvania

If your instincts tell you that the offer from the government is low, then it probably is. However, determining just compensation usually requires an attorney to identify damages and help guide you through the Pennsylvania eminent domain process. Additionally, other experts are needed such as an appraiser and maybe an engineer or planner to provide evidence and expert testimony on your behalf.

Most eminent domain attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. With this fee structure, the attorney assumes the risk for earning a fee. Property owners are generally only responsible for paying costs, with the primary cost being the appraiser who values the property. Because of the contingent fee structure, most eminent domain attorneys will conduct a free case evaluation for property owners prior to recommending representation.

Are Attorney’s Fees Recoverable in Eminent Domain in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, your attorney’s fees may be recoverable in eminent domain cases if you prevail on preliminary objections to eminent domain, and as a result condemnation is terminated (26 Pa. Cons. Stat. §306(g)), or if the condemning authority abandons the proceeding (26 Pa. Cons. Stat. §308(d)).

Your fee’s may also be recoverable if you prevail in an inverse condemnation action (26 Pa. Cons. Stat. §709). If you do not not qualify for reimbursement of attorney’s fees as stated above, then you may be entitled to a $4,000 reimbursement for reasonable incurred fees. (26 Pa. Cons. Stat. §710).

If you’re affected by eminent domain, you should obtain a consultation 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.

Very few attorneys can claim expertise in the area of eminent domain law. Make sure you consult with an eminent domain trial attorney who can effectively identify damages and select the necessary experts. Your attorney should also be able to interface with the condemning authority and be willing to take your case to trial if negotiations can not be reached. 

Summary

Since Kelo v. City of New London, the state of Pennsylvania has taken significant measures to help protect and uphold the right to own private property. Timelines, limitations and restrictions on condemning authorities have helped curb eminent domain abuse in the state, and will hopefully bring future legislative reform to the state of Pennsylvania.

Contact Us

Questions about Pennsylvania 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.