When the government needs your property, they can use the power of eminent domain to condemn your property. But you have rights, too. You are entitled to the fair value of your property. Know what is fair and know your rights. Talk to an eminent domain lawyer at the Butler, Vines & Babb law firm in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Once a governmental entity has decided to take a landowner’s property, the landowner should take steps to position themselves to maximize their recovery, either through negotiation or litigation. The condemning authority is likely to make contact with the property owner on numerous occasions during this process. Steps taken during the pre-condemnation period oftentimes can impact the ultimate outcome of a case.
Typically the condemning authority will hold public hearings for affected property owners in which information regarding the proposed project will be provided. Once the acquisition process is underway, the condemning authority will seek access to inspect your property so that an appraiser can evaluate the land and improvements sought to be acquired. While the circumstances of each case and property are different, your contact with the representative of the condemning authority begins the process. Depending upon whether or not it is a partial take or a complete acquisition, the condemning authority may be in the position of offering business relocation assistance as well as moving expenses. At times, the condemning authority may be willing to entertain suggestions regarding slight design modifications if it is just a partial acquisition so that your utilization of the remaining property can be enhanced. All of these issues require the early involvement of an experienced condemnation/eminent domain attorney.
While every property owner can testify as to the value of their land, in most eminent domain cases, the battle will be between the appraisal testimony of the state’s appraiser and the property owner’s appraiser.
Under the State Licensing and Certified Real Estate Appraisers Law, certified appraisers may give testimony regarding the value of a subject property. The appraisers typically use one of the three standard appraisal approaches: the market approach, the income approach and the cost approach. Most often, the fair market value will be established through the market approach which involves the use of “comparable sales.” Insofar as no two pieces of property are identical, the utilization of this approach commonly creates great variance in opinions. Appraisers make “adjustments” to account for property variability, which is somewhat subjective. Appraisers will also value the property as of the “date of possession” which is a date in which the Court transfers possession of the property after the Petition for Condemnation is filed. Usually, the landowner is given just five days to object to the taking, if grounds exist, before an Order of Possession is entered. Evaluating the condemning authority’s appraisal as well as the proposed use and public necessity is critical to determine how to proceed with planning your defense to the condemnation/eminent domain case in order to maximize your recovery from the government.
Numerous issues can arise in cases which complicate the valuation issue, including environmental issues, leasehold interests, zoning, relationship to other public improvement projects (“scope of the project rule”), etc. Quite often the attorney representing the condemning authority will have extensive experience in the field of condemnation law. For example, members of the State Attorney General’s Office, Real Property and Transportation Division essentially handle only eminent domain cases. These lawyers will appreciate the nuances of cases; it is important that you have experienced counsel to ensure that those issues are evaluated from the landowner’s perspective to ensure maximum recovery.
Yes, you can challenge how much the government wants to take. Our eminent domain attorneys know the condemnation process and the eminent domain laws well, so when the government asks for a certain amount of property, we know how to challenge them. In one case, the government asked for 25 acres and finally settled for a substantial reduction (Gatlinburg Airport Authority v. Summit). This enabled continued ownership and agricultural use of much of the property the government sought to condemn.
When the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) or another state, federal or local government entity contacts you about eminent domain, contact a lawyer about a fair price and your rights. Butler, Vines and Babb attorney Jim Wright represents property owners throughout the state in land condemnation/eminent domain cases.