When faced with land condemnation, it is understandable that you will have many questions. To help make understanding the process a little easier, we have compiled a list of some frequently asked questions about eminent domain and land condemnation, along with our answers and insights to each question.

  1. What is eminent domain?

Eminent domain is the legal power of government to condemn private property for public or commercial use—provided the land taking somehow benefits the public. If a property owner disputes land condemnation, the court often defers local or state authorities to assess public benefit. Lenient assessments allow condemnation to benefit private parties or businesses, even if future benefits never occur.

  1. What is land condemnation?

Simply put, land condemnation is the legal process by which a condemnor seizes private land for a public purpose, benefit, or use under the power of eminent domain. For such an exercise to be constitutional, the condemnor must show the project serves a public purpose and pay just compensation to the landowner.

  1. Can I assume the government will treat me fairly?

No. Like any other real estate buyer, the government wants to obtain property for as cheap as possible. The difference between land condemnation and private sales is that the government takes the land whether or not the owner wants to sell it. Therefore, private buyers cannot force sales while the government can. While the law requires the condemnor pay “just compensation,” we find most government offers undervalue properties, sometimes severely. See our results page for examples.

  1. What are my rights if my property is condemned?

You have the right under the United States and North Carolina state constitutions to:

    • Prevent condemnation if land seizure would not serve a public purpose, benefit, or use
    • Be paid fair and just compensation for the property taken from you
    • Recover moving, replacement housing, relocation, advisory, and other expenses—subject to limitations
  1. Who pays the costs of condemnation proceedings?

The condemnor is responsible for some court costs such as an appraisal or other expert testimony fees. Attorneys’ fees are sometimes recoverable as well, although this is less common. At Henson Fuerst, we handle most condemnation cases on a contingency fee basis. In instances where this is not applicable or advisable, we may represent landowners on an hourly basis. Our North Carolina condemnation lawyers will help determine your best course of action.

  1. When selecting an attorney, what criteria should I consider?

The main thing to consider when hiring an attorney is experience. The right attorney regularly handles eminent domain, land condemnation, and property rights cases. Experienced in all facets of landowner rights; the right attorney knows how to properly evaluate appraisal reports, will not compromise for local politics or other potential work, and will not hesitate to take a case to trial.  Click here for more information on questions to ask an eminent domain attorney before hiring them.

  1. How is fair value for my property determined?

The value of the land taken from property owners is typically determined by appraisers using the Sales Comparison, Cost, or Income Capitalization approach. The appraiser must work with your lawyer to assess all valuation methods in your case. Henson Fuerst can answer your questions about property owners’ rights and determine your best course of action based on the facts and circumstances surrounding your case.

  1. What is the North Carolina law on public purpose?

In 2005’s Kelo v. City of New London, the U.S. Supreme Court approved condemnation of urban land to build commercial properties for “future economic development.” The court found there was public purpose—even though some land would not be open for public use, the land would be leased to private entities, and there was no guarantee of future economic development. A public outcry ensued, with 48 states passing laws or constitutional amendments prohibiting such condemnations. North Carolina is one of only two states not to pass corrective actions, meaning your land may not be protected from eminent domain.

  1. What is a Design-Build project?

With recent legislative changes, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) now subcontracts all design, planning, right-of-way acquisition, and construction to outside contractors. While nearly all roadway projects have traditionally been managed by the NCDOT, Design-Build greatly changes how roadways are built in the state. If your property is affected by a Design-Build project, talk with your lawyer about how this may impact your interests.

  1. Can I be compensated if eminent domain acquisitions hurt my business?

Yes and no. Eminent domain typically only deals with taking real property, including land, buildings, permanent structures, improvements, and access to it. Therefore, it usually does not compensate businesses for lost profits, revenues, or interruptions. However, there are exceptions to this rule, including relocation benefits to which the business is entitled. Certain businesses such as farms and rental properties, where income comes directly from the land, can obtain lost income. An experienced eminent domain land condemnation lawyer from Henson Fuerst can analyze your specific situation for a complete answer.

  1. What are the top 5 things I should never do without consulting an experienced condemnation lawyer?

    1. Do Not Sign a Right-of-Entry Agreement with the NCDOT
    2. Do Not Challenge a Tax Appraisal
    3. Do Not Speak to a Right-of-Way (ROW) Agent
    4. Do Not Speak to NCDOT Appraisers About Your Property
    5. Do Not Put Your Property on the Market with Condemnation Pending

Click here for more information on what not to do without first consulting with an eminent domain attorney.

You Have Questions, Our Eminent Domain Lawyers Have Answers.

Do you have a question about eminent domain or land condemnation not indicated above? Contact us today by submitting a contact form on our website or calling our office at 919-781-1107 to speak with one of our North Carolina eminent domain and land condemnation lawyers.