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How does the eminent domain process work?

The eminent domain process can be frightening to even consider. Most Florida homeowners and business owners shiver at the idea.

Having your property snatched out from under you sounds like the product of a nightmare. No one expects such a situation to happen in their lifetime. Unfortunately, the process affects many individuals and families each year. What should all landowners know about this process?

What is eminent domain?

Eminent domain refers to the power that each state government has over private property. Whether you are a citizen or a business, the state or local government can take your property away for "public use." There are several reasons why the government might assign the power of eminent domain to certain companies, including:

  • Building schools, hospitals, police or fire stations
  • Putting up telephone, power, water or gas lines
  • Installing roads, highways or mass transit rails

What happens during the eminent domain process?

You might feel helpless if this action falls upon your property. It is important to understand that you have a right to full compensation in Florida. It is equally helpful to understand the eminent domain process. Every case is unique, although the process usually follows similar steps, such as:

  1. Announcement of the project. The government starts planning a project. They assess and appraise any necessary land, regardless of ownership. The law requires the government to negotiate before filing a lawsuit. Therefore, they will offer to purchase the property from you.
  2. You accept or deny the offer. At this stage, sometimes both parties reach a settlement. But as a property owner, you should complete your own investigation before you commit. If you do not wish to sell, the government files a court action and notifies you of the hearing.
  3. Scheduled hearing. At the hearing, the government must convince the court that they are acting in good faith. This means that they made an offer to purchase the property, which you denied. The government must also prove that the property in question is intended for public use. Additionally, you have a chance to defend your property.
  4. The government obtains the title. At this stage, the government may be granted the land-rights. If so, they have 20 days to finalize an estimate of the value of your property. You are entitled to collect that sum. Any mortgages, liens or encumbrances on the property are covered first. After that, you can keep the remaining funds. When all is said and done, the government gains title to the property.
  5. There could be a trial. There is a possibility that you did not receive full compensation for your property. Maybe the government did not consider all the damages, or the "good faith" estimate is too low. A trial determines what, if anything, is still owed to the original landowner.
  6. There could be a cost assessment. If either party disagrees with the case outcome, you can appeal the decision. In the end, court costs, attorneys' fees and expert witnesses increase expenses. The government is responsible for the financial aspects of the process.

The eminent domain process is lengthy and complicated. It is vital that property owners understand their rights and receive full compensation, especially after such a difficult dilemma. Although losing your property is a life-changing event, the outcome will hopefully end in your financial favor. There can be many opportunities to challenge the government and pursue a more favorable offer.

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