Sued by the Government for Your Property? You Have Options That May Potentially be in Your Favor.
Your property is in the government's path of progress as it builds new highways and bypasses, and widens streets, sidewalks, and so on. They offer you compensation for your property. You don't agree that the offer is a fair price, and you don't accept it. So they tell you they will condemn your property.
What most property owners don't understand is that condemnation means the government will sue you to take your land. This reality can come as quite a shock to learn for the first time as the local sheriff knocks on your door and serves you legal papers.
But let's rewind a bit before we get to the shock of being sued by the government. Here's how this can play out.
The Government Can Take Your Land by Filing a Lawsuit
When the condemning authority (a government agency, such as the North Carolina Department of Transportation) decides to buy property using eminent domain, they will usually try to negotiate with you before filing a lawsuit. However, property owners and the government don't always agree on price.
Let's say, for example, you're a homeowner and you don't want to sell your house, or just don't want to sell for the amount offered. If the condemning authority has not been able to come to an agreement with you, they will then:
1) File a lawsuit
2) Serve you notice
3) Deposit their estimate of "just compensation" with the county clerk.
Once these steps are met, the condemning authority legally owns your home.
You Have Options - Potentially in Your Favor
When you receive notice that your property has been condemned, you have options. If you're represented by an attorney, you should provide the original documents to your attorney, and keep a copy for your records. If you don't have an attorney, you should weigh the consequences of settling for the "just compensation" in the complaint or fighting them to get the amount you believe your property is worth.
You usually have a year from the date you receive notice to let the court know you disagree with the amount of just compensation offered. However, your time to respond may be as little as 120 days if it is a local government or other agency condemning under N.C. Gen. Statute 40A. If you don't respond within that time period, you waive your ability to argue for more money. Simply informing the condemning authority isn't enough. You must file an official court document called an "Answer" with the court where the lawsuit was filed, stating that you disagree with the amount of just compensation and asking for a hearing or trial.
Respond to the Lawsuit ASAP
Just because you may have up to a year to respond doesn't mean you should wait that long. Once the condemning authority has filed the lawsuit and paid for the land, they own it and can begin using it for the project it was purchased for.
That means that any buildings or other improvements in the purchased area can be removed during that response period.
If an owner waits too long to hire an expert, the property may have changed too much for that expert to validate what they feel just compensation would be. Even if the expert has a perfectly valid opinion, a jury might not believe your expert who may not have had an opportunity to see the property before it was altered.
How an Eminent Domain Attorney May Potentially Help
For these reasons, I would recommend that if you're facing condemnation under eminent domain you should carefully consider hiring an experienced eminent domain attorney.
An attorney will often begin negotiating with the condemning authority to reach a fair settlement before a lawsuit is ever filed. There are even cases where it makes sense to allow condemnation to be filed before settling. In those situations, it can be helpful to know that you have an attorney who understands and has dealt with the hurdles you face. An attorney won't take the shock out of being sued, but we can potentially help take the sting out of what may come.
NC Eminent Domain Attorneys
Our eminent domain attorneys not only have many years of experience dealing with these very issues, we have two attorneys on staff who previously represented the NCDOT throughout North Carolina. They are an invaluable resource to all our eminent domain attorneys and staff as we endeavor to present your case in the best possible light.
Give us a call at 1-877-393-4990, or click here for a free case evaluation.