Eminent Domain is a legal concept that gives government entities the right to buy property or to create easements on private property, for the purpose of building or expanding public projects. Within Florida, state, county, and municipal government agencies may exercise eminent domain, as can certain utilities, school districts, and other agencies. Examples of such projects are roads and highways, railroads, or public buildings like schools. While in many cases, the property owners cannot stop the process and have no choice but to sell, they do retain certain rights. If you’ve received notice that your property will or may be affected by eminent domain, or you suspect that it may be in the future, read on for an overview of how the process works under Florida law, and what rights you have throughout the process.

Planning & Project Mapping

When a government agency plans a public project, one of the earliest steps they take is to hire surveyors and engineers to make a project map, so they can determine which specific pieces of land it will need to purchase entirely, or to buy limited use rights, which is called an easement. There are two possible processes the government can use to exercise eminent domain in Florida: fast taking, which is used in rare cases where time is critical, and slow taking, which is most common. In a fast taking situation, the government acquires rights to the property it needs upfront, but they also agree in advance to pay the owners whatever a jury finds fair, if the government and owner aren’t able to negotiate a mutually agreeable price.

In slow taking proceedings, the government does not acquire rights to the property until sale terms are negotiated and agreed upon, or set by a jury. One major difference between fast and slow takings is that in the case of a slow taking, the government can decide to back out of a project if acquiring the property it needs becomes too costly or too slow, by finding an alternative plan or property.

Government Appraisal Of Affected Property

Once the affected properties have been identified, the government entity hires an independent real estate appraiser to determine the value of land and improvements that are to be purchased entirely, and establish a value for the loss or limitation of use of property where an easement is required. The total value of the property includes not only the value of land and improvements (buildings, sheds, fences, etc.), but also things like whether the property owner will be losing rental income or business profits as a result of the sale. In cases where the government needs an easement, the appraiser will consider whether the easement is temporary (contractors need to use a part of the property during construction, for example), or permanent, in which case the appraisal will factor the reduction in size of the property and any reduction in the value of the property as a result of the easement.

Protect Your Rights & Assets With Representation

Florida law requires that the government prove the taking is for a public purpose, pay the property owner fair compensation for the property, and cover the property owners’ attorney fees and other costs in settling eminent domain cases. If you’ve received notification that your property is going to be affected by eminent domain, you have the right to hire a qualified attorney of your choice to make sure your rights and interests are properly protected under the law. It’s important to understand that this doesn’t work the same way as a standard contingency arrangement where the attorney takes a percentage of your settlement as payment for their services. In eminent domain cases, the property owner gets their settlement, and the attorney fees are awarded addition to the property owner’s settlement. You get the benefit of having an experienced attorney to represent you throughout the negotiations and settlement, at no cost to you.

Your eminent domain attorney will work with you to review the government documents explaining the purpose and scope of their proposed project, along with their appraisal report and valuation. One of the costs that Florida law specifically says the government must pay is a second appraisal and report from an independent appraiser chosen by your or your attorney. In some cases, your attorney may also recommend commissioning a traffic study (also paid for by the government) to help demonstrate loss of property value due to the proposed project, or to suggest changes to prevent that kind of loss.

Negotiations & Settlement

Once you and your attorney have credible information as to the overall value of your property and how that might be affected by the government’s proposed project, you’re in a position to negotiate a fair settlement. In some cases, your attorney may determine that the initial offer was fair and advise you to accept it. In other cases, they’ll work with you to make a counter-offer that more fairly and completely covers your potential losses. In some ways, it’s like the closing process when you buy a home, and in most cases, the buyer and seller can come to terms in negotiations. Unlike closing on a regular real estate purchase, though, the seller can’t just walk away. If no agreement is reached, the government entity can file suit for condemnation of the property, which means that a jury will determine the value in a trial. When that happens, the government is required to pay the value their appraiser set for the property at the beginning of the legal proceedings. If a jury determines that the full and fair value of the property is more than that, the property owner will be awarded that additional amount as a judgment.

Take A Deep Breath And Hire An Experienced Attorney

Learning that your property is going to be affected by eminent domain can be a panic-inducing and intimidating situation. Take a deep breath and rest assured that you have rights and legal protection, and hiring an attorney experienced in eminent domain cases will provide your best chances of getting a fair settlement for your property. The attorneys at Overstreet, Miles, Cumbie, Finkenbinder & Bondy have successfully handled Florida eminent domain cases for their clients for years. Call or contact us online for a confidential consultation and learn more about how our effective representation can help you protect your rights.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

Office of Public Affairs

The U.S. Embassy in Nassau is open for emergency visa appointments and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Ports of Entry are prepared, should Bahamians request to temporarily relocate to the United States.

All travelers applying for admission to the United States via air or sea must meet the following document requirements for admission to ensure a lawful and orderly arrival to the United States.

  • Bahamians must be in possession of a valid, unexpired passport or a Bahamian Travel Document listing nationality as Bahamian. All other travelers arriving from the Bahamas (U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and individuals of other nationalities) must possess a valid, unexpired government–issued passport.
  • Bahamians arriving to the United States by vessel must be in possession of a valid passport AND valid travel visa.
  • Detailed information on all visa application requirements and processes, as well as a step-by-step guide to visa applications for Bahamians, can be found at https://bs.usembassy.gov/visas/nonimmigrant-visas.
  • Bahamian citizens may apply for admission to the United States without a visa at one of the CBP Preclearance facilities located in Nassau or Freeport International Airports, IF they meet the following requirements:
    • Be traveling on a flight that CBP completes immigration and customs inspections in Nassau or Freeport. (*Note – Bahamians traveling on to another country and expecting to transit the United States on their return will need a visa);
    • Be in possession of a valid, unexpired passport or a Bahamian Travel Document listing nationality as Bahamian;
    • Have no criminal record nor any legal ineligibility or inadmissibility as defined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (click here);
    • Be traveling for business or pleasure (tourism, visiting relatives, shopping, etc.) purposes for a short duration;
    • All persons 14 years of age and older must be in possession of a police certificate issued within the past six months;
    • Bahamians traveling through the United States to a third country must possess a valid visa for return travel through the U.S.

The bottom line is that all travelers must possess government-issued identity documents, such as passports. All travelers who arrive directly to a U.S. Port of Entry by air or sea must possess a U.S. visitor’s visa. Travelers who would otherwise qualify for the Visa Waiver Program and who travel by air from a CBP Preclearance facility in Freeport or Nassau may not need a U.S. visitor’s visa.

Other details

CBP Port Directors may use discretion and will consider all exigent circumstances on a case by case basis, in accordance with existing laws and regulations.

CBP recommends that all carriers coordinate evacuations with the Bahamian and U.S. government authorities so that CBP facilities are prepared to quickly and efficiently process arriving passengers. Carriers are also reminded of their Notice of Arrival requirements.

The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army continue to also work with local Florida governments to address any needs of evacuees who seek temporary relocation in the United States.

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