If a government entity is attempting to acquire your property, you have reason to be concerned. The “taking” may start in a variety of ways. You may have been contacted by a “land agent” for the entity or received a written notice or notice of condemnation directly from the acquiring entity. Whatever the case, read the several articles on our website and learn more about your rights as a landowner under Pennsylvania Eminent Domain law.
Landowners from across Pennsylvania contact us when they are under the threat of a government “taking” under Eminent Domain. This brief article summarizes their most frequent questions into three (3) areas that most callers wish to better understand.
1. Most Government Takings Under Eminent Domain are Successful
The power of a government to take property is imbedded in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, but only if the taking is for a public use, and in exchange for just compensation. Our Pennsylvania Eminent Domain laws echo the federal. Thus, in our Commonwealth, the Eminent Domain process can only be stopped if the proposed taking does not meet the requirements for public purpose or public necessity.
The phrase ”public purpose” means exactly that. The land cannot be used for any other purpose, not even if the landowner is compensated. The condemnor (the entity attempting the “take”) must show that the property will only be for public or civic use, and can include government facilities, transportation projects, and many other public purposes.
Pennsylvania courts uphold most Eminent Domain actions when they are truly valid. This means that in a large majority of cases rarely can a landowner stop the “taking”. However, in the right circumstances, a landowner can have the right to object to a Declaration of Taking. At this stage, the owner can challenge the right to condemn, the sufficiency of the monetary security, and any issues with the way a condemning authority met the procedures required of them by law.
2. “Just Compensation” for Your Property is Absolutely Required
Because most attempted government “takings” are valid, the heart and soul of most Eminent Domain disputes is the amount a landowner will be paid. It is no surprise that the dollar amount first offered to a landowner is usually not what the landowner thinks the property is worth. The bad news is that landowners cannot be compensated for the emotional attachments to the property (a family legacy, the years of effort, etc.) The good news is that landowners have the right to submit their own appraisals and other evidence to argue their own interpretation of “Just Compensation”.
As you might expect, the concept of “Just Compensation” can vary widely depending on the type of property being condemned. A property owner is entitled to fair market value (FMV), and this FMV can vary depending on the whether the property is a residence, vacant land or a business property. Business properties may also be entitled to additional damages.
3. Hire an Experienced Eminent Domain Lawyer ASAP.
Pennsylvania Eminent Domain laws are complex. Navigating procedural hurdles and deadlines to ensure that your rights are preserved is even more complicated. Issues like the “highest and best use” of your property or the valuation method used to determine that value are critical. The differences between what a landowner is first offered and the value ultimately determined underscores the importance of protecting your rights as a landowner.
It’s never too soon to speak with us, but it can be too late. Even if you have been informally contacted by anyone discussing an acquisition of your land, contact us. If you have received a written notice, Estimate of Just Compensation (EJC) or an actual Condemnation notice, you must act now. We welcome you to read the several other articles about Eminent Domain available free on this website. Better yet, call us for a free consultation at 1-800-755-0245 or send an instant message through our website: http://www.puzaklaw.com. We look forward to helping you through this challenging time.
IMPORTANT: Every case is unique in its facts and circumstances. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended as legal advice for any particular case. We recommend consultation with a lawyer of your choice who can perform a thorough analysis of your situation and the particular rights and remedies that may apply.
©David J. Puzak, Puzak Law Offices, LLC
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