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Road projects surround us. Lane expansions, new exit ramps, updated configurations—change abounds. Especially with so much traffic congestion, it’s no surprise that governments increasingly use their eminent domain powers to acquire private property from landowners.
What happens, though, when your town wants to take part or all of your land?
A recent Delaware, Ohio, case is a good example. A married couple bought a to-story Victorian house in 2013 for $11,000 at sheriff’s sale. With $60,000 in upgrades, they converted the building into a haunted house, a popular, ghoulishly themed attraction around Halloween. Last October they grossed nearly $300,000 from 8,000 visitors.
Their suburban school district wanted the property for a school bus turnaround.
Eminent domain is the government power to take private property for public use.
Condemnation is the formal process by which governments exercise eminent domain authority. The school district’s power to seize this property is rooted in the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Takings Clause, which guarantees that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The haunted house owners didn’t disagree with the public use aspect of the proposed taking—it benefited building a new elementary school, and the bus loop improved safety. The owners did, however, balk at the school district’s original $100,000 offer. They wanted $350,000.
In condemnation cases, experts, known as appraisers, must prove valuation. Here, the landowners felt the school district lowballed them, that the $100,000 offer constituted an unfair comparison to other unimproved, non-descript local properties. Their expert testified about the renovations and the haunted house’s popularity as a business. Ultimately, a jury awarded the homeowners $229,000 —sort of splitting the parties’ disparate figures down the middle.
Aahhh… there’s the rub. What is “fair market value”? Remember, condemnation is a harsh, severe exercise of government power. It seizes by force someone’s private property.
Many factors go into valuation:
If faced with condemnation, you need an experienced attorney to navigate this minefield, and to persuasively present your case in the most favorable light to achieve the most compensation possible.
Road projects abound. A local government or highway authority that is planning a project may subject your property to a taking. You may receive an offer to buy (a portion of) your land. With a good eminent domain lawyer, you may receive significantly more money than the first offer.
If you’re a homeowner facing condemnation, you need to hire the right counsel. Trust the landowner professionals at Sever Storey. We serve clients facing eminent domain throughout the nation.
Call us right away at (888) 318-3761, or contact us confidentially. With our team of attorneys throughout the country, we’ll help you get the results you deserve.
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