How does the eminent domain process work?
Eminent domain is a confusing process. To fully protect your rights and obtain fair compensation, it is important to understand how it works. Even if you do not object to the taking, it is important to have an attorney assist you with the process to ensure the procedure is carried out properly and that key attributes have been considered to recover the value lost by the taking.
Identification of property to be obtained by the government
The state or municipal government plans a project, and identifies the land needed. Sometimes the whole parcel will be obtained, or just a portion of your land. It is not uncommon to see requests for a temporary or permanent easement, as when a roadway or other infrastructure is expanding.
Government appraisal of the property to be acquired
The government will hire an independent appraiser to determine the value of the land sought. The appraisal should include the value of improvements and fixtures on your land. The methods used to determine the government’s offer will be in the appraisal, including how the taking may diminish the value of any remaining land. If easements are sought, either permanent or temporary, the value of this use is included as well. Further damages are evaluated, particularly when the property is used for commercial purposes. The damages may include lost revenue to your business, or replacement costs if your trees or hedges will be removed during construction pursuant to a temporary easement.
Notice of taking to the landowner
Once a value is assigned to the land sought, you will receive notice that the government intends to acquire your property. The government will make a formal offer to purchase your property. Once you receive this notice, you should contact an experienced eminent domain attorney to assist. Your attorney will help you through the eminent domain procedure, ensuring that the proper legal steps and timelines are followed. He or she will evaluate the offer from the government: that it is being acquired for public use and that fair and reasonable compensation is being offered.
Landowner review of appraisal
Your lawyer will review the government’s appraisal methods used to determine the value of the land and improvements, including any diminution to the value of your property. This may include tax implications that you will experience from the taking. The offer made by the government must be fair and based on the property’s unique attributes. It must not contain errors. Your attorney will examine the damages offered, the calculation of that amount, and whether it accurately represents the loss you will suffer.
Obtain your own independent appraisal
Once the formal offer is made and the offer has been evaluated for meeting the public purpose and use requirements, you can either accept the offer, or obtain your own appraisal to compare with that provided by the government. Under Florida law, the costs to hire your own appraiser is recoverable from the government.
Negotiation and settlement
Once you have an independent appraisal of the land, your attorney enters into negotiations with the government to obtain a fair market value on your behalf. If there is agreement, a purchase or easement agreement in some form will be signed and filed. This will include deed conveyances and a release or partial release of any mortgages, identifying the change in ownership for that portion of the land.