Are Eminent Domain Laws Stacked Against the Property Owner?
Anyone who has heard me speak at eminent domain seminars knows that I tend to discuss how the eminent domain laws in North Carolina can seem like they're stacked against the property owner whose land is being taken by the government.
Here's why it may seem like the laws are not in your favor.
The Government Is Legally Allowed to Overlook Certain Real Estate Laws
Laws are written by the legislature, elected officials who must stretch every government dollar - your tax dollars - as thinly as possible. These laws are then interpreted by appellate judges who serve on the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. They are not trial judges, and typically they don't hear directly from property owners or condemning authorities. They are not real estate professionals either.
The legislature and appellate courts can allow the government to purchase or condemn land from property owners and pay less than what the property would fetch on the open market. While this may seem unfair, it is perfectly legal and not uncommon.
The government is allowed to pay less because, by law, it gets to ignore a lot of factors that private buyers and sellers would take into consideration when buying property.
So while the law states that a property owner should receive "fair market value," it is really stating that the property owner should receive fair market value of their property - except for the things the condemning authority gets to ignore. It can ignore, for example, new medians, lost profits, service roads, and a host of other issues.
Ignoring More Than Just Property Valuation
One of the things I've seen during my years practicing eminent domain law (both on behalf of the NCDOT and as an attorney with the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm) is that the condemning authority has, at times, tended to ignore the value a property derives from certain situations. And it's perfectly legal.
A heart-wrenching example of this happened to Grover and Katherine Smith. They were in the cattle business and lived on the generations-old family farm that had belonged to their grandfather. Then one day, the NCDOT showed up at their door with plans for a new four-lane highway that would run clean through the middle of the Smith's farm. This new highway would cause the Smiths to have to travel nearly two miles down the highway just to get to the other side of their land. As Mr. Smith said, "You can't run cattle across a four-lane highway." Just like that, the Smiths were out of the cattle business!
Legal? You bet.
While we weren't able to stop the highway from being built right through the heart of their cattle farm, we were able to persuade the NCDOT to triple* their original offer to the Smiths.
Government Vs Private Real Estate Buyers - A Double Standard?
This highlights concerns that we as a society, as property owners, and especially we, as lawyers who represent property owners, should consider carefully.
First, is it right that the government is allowed to ignore factors that affect a property's value and livelihood when it condemns property? In partial taking cases (cases where the government only takes a portion of your property), how do you truly and fairly value a property (especially commercial properties) when you ignore property access? We face these issues time and time again, yet the government is legally allowed to continue to ignore this fundamental component of property value and pay "just compensation" based on their interpretation of the property's fair market value.This is exactly the type of injustice we address when trying to help folks like the Smiths show the NCDOT why their land may be worth more.
NC Eminent Domain Attorneys With 25+ Years Combined Experience
We take great pride in fighting for the rights of people like the Smiths. Our eminent domain attorneys not only have more than 25 years of combined experience dealing with these and other property issues, two of us have previously represented the NCDOT throughout North Carolina. Admittedly, we worked for the "other side." And that experience and knowledge has helped make us better lawyers, better representatives, and better negotiators for our clients as we fight for the rights of property owners across the state.
Contact the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm for Land Condemnation Help
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If you have property condemnation concerns, give us a call at 1-877-393-4990, or click here for a free case evaluation.
*Cases or matters referenced do not represent the law firm's entire record. Each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. The outcome of a particular case cannot be predicated upon a lawyer's or a law firm's past results.