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.