Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act

The State of Florida in 1995 enacted the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Protection Act that created a new cause of action for aggrieved property owners. If property owners could demonstrate that a governmental action “inordinately burdens” their property, they would be entitled to some form of compensation. Prior to the Harris Act, governmental agencies became quite adept at implementing zoning changes that would significantly reduce a property owner’s rights and investment potential with their property but would not rise to the level of a “taking” under an eminent domain or inverse condemnation analysis and therefore the government would not have to compensate property owners for their loss. The legislature realized this was an injustice that should be remedied, and passed the Harris Act to provide protection for property owners.

This Act provides a formal process for resolving certain types of land disputes between the property owners and the government. Additionally, under this act, you do not need to meet such a high standard as you would under an Inverse Condemnation analysis.

There are two parts to the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act. Under part one, a land owner must demonstrate that unreasonably “disproportionate” limitations or restrictions have been placed on investment-backed expectations for the existing use of the real property or a vested right to a specific use of the real property was denied by the governmental action.

Under part two, the act provides a mediation process for property disputes. The property owner may apply for relief if he alleges that the governmental action is “unreasonable” or “unfairly burdens” the property’s use.

To qualify to file a claim under the Harris Act, you must meet the following qualifications.

The government action must inordinately burden an existing use of real property or a vested right to a specific use of real property. Additionally, it must appear that it is a reasonable foreseeable non-speculative use that is suitable for the subject real property and compatible with adjacent land uses.

Additionally, please note that the act does not apply if the Taking Authority is the federal government but does apply to most branches of the state and local governments. Further, the act must apply directly to your property and not an indirect damage as a result of some type of ruling regarding an adjacent property.

Inordinate Burden

“Inordinate burden” has come to be defined as action that “has directly restricted or limited the use of real property such that the property owner is permanently unable to obtain the reasonable, investment-backed expectation for the existing use of the real property or a vested right to a specific use of the real property with respect to the real property as a whole, or that the property owner is left with existing or vested uses that are unreasonable such that the property owner bears permanently a disproportionate share of a burden imposed for the good of the public, which in fairness should be born by the public at large.”

If you feel that your property has been inordinately burdened by a governmental action, the first thing you should do is contact an attorney who is experienced in pursuing Bert J. Harris Act claims, such as the attorneys of the Florida Property Rights Law Firm.

The next step would be to have your attorney hire an appraiser to demonstrate the loss in fair market value to the real property as a result of the governmental action, thus, a before-and-after look at the value of the property based upon the action of the government. However, you must be sure that the appraiser that is hired has significant experience dealing with these types of cases and is extremely proficient in testifying as an expert witness. A bad appraiser can ruin your claim.

After the appraisal has been completed, it must be filed with the appropriate governmental agencies, and then you must wait 6 months to determine whether the governmental agency that restricted the land use will compensate you. If the governmental agency does not respond within 6 months or you are not happy with the response, you are then entitled to file a lawsuit under the Bert J. Harris Act.

If you prevail with your Bert J. Harris Act claim, you may also be entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs from the government as determined by the court, typically a percentage of the recovered sum. In some cases, interest on the difference between the original offer (if one was made) or the entire award (if no offer was made) may also be given. However, if the court determines that the settlement offered by the governmental entity constitutes a bon-a-fide offer to you, which reasonably would have resolved the claim, then attorney’s fees would not be awarded.

The Bert J. Harris Act is an important protection for private property owner’s rights in the state of Florida. If you have any questions regarding how it can help you recover compensation for burdens on your property, please do not hesitate to contact Greg Stoner of The Florida Property Rights Law Firm for a free evaluation of your claim.

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