The law allows the state to seize private property for public use, to widen a road or to create a park, hospital, or library. While the state must pay you just compensation for whatever it takes from you – and even damages for the reduced value of what remains – fighting the taking itself is unlikely to be successful.
Eminent domain is truly an awesome and frightening power – especially when it’s used unscrupulously to take land you don’t want to give up.
Unfortunately, the history of eminent domain has many examples of the government abusing this power, including improper takings of private land for private use.
Example 1: The economic development that wasn’t
In 2004, New London, Connecticut tried to entice pharma giant Pfizer to build a plant in the city, seeing an opportunity to create jobs and grow the tax base. To accomplish this, the city took an entire neighborhood worth of homes from their owners. Some owners sued, citing that the taking was not for public use as prescribed by law.
In the case of Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the taking was just.
The city took the properties, forcing owners to relocate. Meanwhile, Pfizer moved its plant to a nearby city and the economic development project driving the entire fiasco dissolved. The homes were bulldozed, and the land sat empty for more than a decade.
Example 2: Eminent domain for a mall?
The city of Hurst, in north Texas, was home to about 50,000 people. In 1997, its biggest taxpayer – North East Mall – wanted to expand. The mall was facing a lot of competition and without growing, faced decline. It bought up most of the houses in an adjacent neighborhood, but a few owners refused to sell.
So, the city of Hurst condemned their properties and took them for the mall. Not a hospital, school, park, utility, or road – a mall. The city eventually settled with those homeowners for $3 million. No Supreme Court ruling was required.
Hurst’s neighboring cities of Bedford and Carrollton quickly passed eminent domain reform to limit the scope of eminent domain takings for private development in their jurisdictions.
Example 3: Blight – A convenient excuse for abuse?
Where eminent domain law does allow for private property to be taken on behalf of private development, it focuses on the idea of “blight” or “slums” within the city’s borders. Blighted areas are seen as unproductive and damaging to the community, so why not use eminent domain takings to spur private development projects?
However, with such a hard-to-define concept as blight, the opportunity for abuse easily arises.
In Las Vegas Downtown Redevelopment Agency v. Pappas, Pappas owned a rental property that was not blighted, but was nearby blighted areas. The city took it anyway for private interests – and the kicker was that Pappas lost the case due to failure to appear at a hearing they didn’t even know about.
Some municipalities have used the vague language of statutes to declare property blighted or a slum – and therefore eligible for taking – even when their application of the definition seems to defy reasonable logic.
Unfortunately, in many cases, these takings have been upheld despite vigorous challenges.
This kind of taking happens inordinately to property owners in politically weak, poor, and minority neighborhoods. Some municipalities succumb to the siren call of private interests and economic redevelopment hoping for a tax windfall, but innocent property owners end up suffering.
In this case, the Pappas property was redeveloped into a parking garage.
Example 4: Eminent domain…so a business could have a front lawn?
In some cases, when the government takes private property from one owner and gives it to another, the economic development benefits are crystal clear. That was not the case in Toledo, Ohio, when the city condemned nearly a hundred parcels – including Kim’s Auto and Truck Service – for the expansion of an automaker’s plant.
In fact, the owners of the repair shop knew from the development plans that their land would simply become the lawn of the manufacturing plant. Not expanded manufacturing capacity or a park, just landscaping.
Despite this, the owners’ case went nowhere – the Ohio Supreme Court refused to stay the taking, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
The owners ultimately received $104,000 for their property, which was indeed turned into just grass. It’s been called one of the top ten abuses of eminent domain power.
Eminent domain abuse can often come in the following forms:
Lack of due process.The Fifth Amendment guarantees you the benefit of due process. If a condemning authority doesn’t follow the correct steps in their planning of the project, their valuation methods, or their filing of a condemnation lawsuit, you may be facing an abuse of eminent domain.
Unjust compensation. Condemning agencies, just like any other buyer, generally want to pay as little as they possibly can. Refusal to pay fair market value after an appraisal, for example, could be abuse, though it’s behavior we frequently witness.
Undermining the value of your property.Let’s say the city has been planning for a decade to put a fire station on your property, and they’ve kept your property value down for their own gain. Your property is zoned for agricultural use, for example, while nearby properties are zoned for commercial use. The NC Map Act, now repealed, caused many stories like this by restricting development of properties without compensation.
Appraisal games. For example, the condemning authority doesn’t offer you a copy of the appraisal, and you don’t know to ask for it. Or the appraiser has appraised your property from the road without going inside the building. Or the condemning authority hires two appraisers to value your property and only gives you a copy of one of the appraisals, even after you asked for both.
Condemnation abuse lawyers serving North Carolina
Eminent domain is a powerful tool of the government, but you still have rights. You don’t have to accept the offer of the government or another condemning agency without a negotiation, and the government does not have the right to impose compensation that falls below market value.
But it can be intimidating to take on the government as an individual homeowner. Even business owners with negotiation skills don’t know all the intricacies of eminent domain law if they’re not experienced attorneys. Whether the NCDOT’s plans are impacting your residential or commercial property, we can help.
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Our firm works for you on a contingency fee basis. This means if we don’t get you additional compensation over what the government offered you for your property, you don’t pay an attorney’s fee. Guaranteed.
Call us at 1-877-393-4990 today for a no-cost, no-obligation case evaluation or contact us online, and a member of our team will get back to you quickly!
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There are only a handful of attorneys in NC who practice eminent domain exclusively, and even fewer with NCDOT experience. We have several. That’s why its worth getting in touch with us for a free case evaluation.
Here’s how it works:
1) Tell us about your situation.
2) We research your property as needed, using DOT maps, our own technology, and experience to see the exact effects.
3) We let you know what we think a fair offer would be. This evaluation is free, and there’s no
pressure or obligation to hire us after.
But please don’t wait to act. Waiting can hurt your case, and the cost is the same: free.