Owning a home or business property often represents years of hard work and savings. When the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.), a city or county, a pipeline, telephone or power company decides to take your property, you need a condemnation attorney with experience in condemnation (eminent domain) cases.
What is a Condemnation Attorney?
A condemnation attorney helps property owners obtain fair compensation for property that has been taken from them for a highway, lake, power line, pipeline or other public purpose. Bill Cannon, a condemnation attorney with Cannon Law, P.C., knows the special rules that apply to condemnation cases and how to explain the value of your property to a jury.
Why Do I Need a Condemnation Attorney?
You only have one chance to obtain fair compensation for the property that has been taken from you. If you decide to negotiate with the D.O.T. or other governmental agency without representation by a condemnation attorney, you could easily fail to include an important element of damages. In one case, Bill Cannon was able to convince a judge that a right of way claimed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation for years actually belonged to the property owners. Without the client hiring an experienced condemnation attorney, the D.O.T. would not have paid at all for taking that portion of the client’s land.
Bill Cannon has many years of experience as a condemnation lawyer trying condemnation cases on behalf of property owners and governmental entities in Georgia and North Carolina. He is an effective advocate for property owners in their fight to obtain maximum compensation for their property when it has been taken by condemnation. Bill knows how to effectively present the claims of property owners to North Carolina juries.
Condemnation Lawyer Questions
Attorneys’ fees cannot be recovered in most condemnation actions but are allowed in a few specified circumstances. However, attorneys’ fees can be recovered in an inverse condemnation case where property is taken before proper legal proceedings are filed.
Condemnation cases are most commonly handled on a contingency fee basis. That is, the lawyer will receive a portion of the amount that is recovered from the condemning agency as a fee. An hourly fee is also available in most condemnation cases.
In most cases you will receive written notice that condemnation proceedings are being considered even before the actual condemnation proceedings begin. You may even be extended an offer of compensation prior to the filing of the condemnation proceedings. When the condemnation proceeding is filed in court, you will most likely be served by mail or by a deputy sheriff with a copy of the proceedings and with a summons requiring you to file an answer within a certain period of time if you wish to contest the condemnation.
In some instances a condemning agency takes property before filing proper legal proceedings. In that situation, the landowner can usually file a action for inverse condemnation seeking damages for the property taken. There are statutes of limitation that apply and when you learn that your property has been taken you should consult a lawyer immediately to avoid the running of the statute of limitations and your claim for compensation being barred.
Costs in most condemnation cases include one or more real estate value experts (appraisers and other persons with specialized knowledge of the value of your property). Sometimes other expenses for depositions may include deposition costs, preparation of exhibits for trial and other similar expenses. Some of these costs may be recoverable from the condemning agency if you recover at trial more than the agency offered. Our firm will not hire experts nor take depositions until we have explained to you why we think these are needed and obtain your approval.
DO NOT SIGN ANY DOCUMENTS OFFERED BY THE CONDEMNING AGENCY UNTIL YOU HAVE TALKED TO A LAWYER. By the time that the Department of Transportation or some other condemning agency has notified you of its intention to take your property that agency has already designed the project for which your property is being taken, obtained an appraisal of your property and determined what they will offer you for your property. In order to properly evaluate any offer you need to know what damages are available to you as a result of the taking of your property and how a jury might value what damages you have suffered. In addition, photographs and surveys may need to be taken for use during settlement negotiations or trial. However, you should not rush into the decision. Make sure that the lawyer you hire has experience and is qualified to handle your case. Most importantly, be sure that you are comfortable with the lawyer
The legal issues involved in the evidence used in condemnation cases for proving damages can be very complex and are dependent on the facts of each particular case. In general, where a portion of property is taken for highway purposes, the basic compensation for land taken by condemnation is the difference in fair market value of the entire tract of land just before the taking and the value immediately after the taking with consideration given to any benefits resulting to the remaining portion from utilization of the part taken for highway purposes. For example, if a person owns a 10 acre tract of land worth $100,000 and the condemnation takes 1 acre and the remaining 9 acres are worth $75,000, the compensation for the taking would be $25,000. Where the entire tract of land is taken, the compensation is the fair market value of the land at the time of the taking.
There are a number of elements that influence the ultimate amount that is recovered for property taken in a condemnation action.
- The fair market value of the land is determined as of the “date of taking.” The date of the filing of the petition or complaint is the “date of taking.” Even if the trial is some time after the date of taking, the compensation is still computed as of the date of taking.
- The amount of any compensation awarded will be reduced by any amount paid in advance by the condemning authority with the filing of the petition.
- You can recover interest on the amount of compensation awarded that exceeds the amount paid in advance by the condemning authority.
- In North Carolina, compensation cannot be awarded for loss of a business maintained on the land taken. However, where the taking results in a business loss that renders the land less valuable, the landowner can recover for the reduction in value of the land itself.
- In determining the fair market value of land, the “highest and best” use of the land should be considered, not just the use to which the land is being applied at the time of condemnation.
- Where a building is located on the land condemned, the value of the building is considered in computing the value of the land taken and the compensation awarded.
- Loss of access to a public highway can constitute a taking of property.
You may want to prepare a list of questions to bring with you. Many of the questions on this page may be included. Some general questions that you may wish to ask are:
- Can you tell me about your experience in condemnation cases?
- How will you be paid?
- What does your fee cover in a condemnation case? Are there other costs that may be associated with a condemnation case?
- How long does a condemnation case take to complete?
Many governmental agencies (the United States, the state, counties and cities and many agencies of those governments) and some private companies, such as railroads, power companies and pipeline companies, may take your property as long as they pay you just compensation. There are limitations on the purpose for which your property can be taken. Generally speaking, the taking must be for a public purpose.