At Sever Storey, we are lawyers work exclusively for LANDOWNERS. Both the State of North Carolina’s laws and the United States Constitution require that landowners receive just compensation in exchange for any land taken through the power of eminent domain. We firmly believe this language isn’t just a statement of puffery, but a right guaranteed to all citizens. This fundamental belief provides the foundation for the way we practice law. It is our mission, as landowner attorneys, to stand up for the rights of North Carolina landowners and ensure the condemning authority taking our clients’ properties upholds its end of the bargain. Our attorneys never represent states, municipalities, utility companies, or any other condemning authorities. Instead, our entire practice is centered around representing and serving you, the North Carolina landowner.
Whether or not this is your first time hiring an attorney to represent you, you probably have some questions. Let’s get the big ones out of the way. Below are some of the most common questions our potential clients have for us, and we’ve done our best to answer them as thoroughly and honestly as possible. However, please remember that every case is different, and you may have some unique questions about your particular situation and condemnation. The responses below are designed to answer general questions about eminent domain, but if you want to discuss the particulars of your case or have additional questions, please give us a call or send us an email for a free consultation.
At Sever Storey, we are lawyers that find solutions and deliver results. We’ve represented hundreds of landowners and businesses that have been affected by eminent domain and condemnation, and we’ve figured out what works. Our attorneys have extensive practical experience and are familiar with the unique problems that often arise in the eminent domain and condemnation processes. This invaluable experience allows our attorneys to identify issues and solve problems you might not have even contemplated. On behalf of our clients, we’ve squared off against state and local governments, pipeline and power line operators, and developers. We have represented farmers, business owners, and residential landowners from all walks of life. Clients come to our attorneys with cases where a few hundred dollars is at stake, and we represent them just as passionately as we represent clients whose cases involve millions of dollars of compensation. We’ve even taught other attorneys how to better serve clients faced with eminent domain or condemnation. When we give recommendations and advice, you can rest assured it’s coming from experienced, knowledgeable attorneys who are looking out for you.
Eminent domain is the process by which states and localities have the right to condemn and force the sale of private property usually in order to serve a public purpose. In some situations, states or localities have given this power to administrative agencies, local utilities, or local boards, e.g. library boards. Condemnation is the act of a government exercising its power of eminent domain, not to be confused with the legal process where a building is designated as no longer fit for habitation. Traditionally, private property was often taken for public uses like building freeways, schools, bridges, and more recently certified technology parks. Only a judge can decide whether or not a taking is for a public purpose should there be a dispute between the property owner and the state.
Condemnation is the process by which the taking authority will acquire your land. This process is controlled by statute. A discussion of the condemnation process can be found following this section. Think of it this way, eminent domain represents the power to take, condemnation is the process by which they take it.
Property can in certain situations be taken for private projects as well. Over the past few decades, the courts have interpreted what projects are for “public use” very broadly. The courts have deferred the decision of whether or not something is for a “public purpose” to the individual state legislatures. For example, some communities now use the power of eminent domain to seize “blighted” neighborhoods for redevelopment into more upscale condominiums and apartments. In situations such as these, the state serves as the “middleman,” taking the private property from one person to sell or give to another in order to spur economic growth. Projects such as these are often referred to as “economic development zones,” and our lawyers have a keen knowledge of these complicated situations.
While states and localities have the right of eminent domain, the U.S. Constitution entitles home and land owners to just compensation for their property by way of the 5th and 14th Amendments. After the government decides to take property, it will provide an appraiser to determine the fair market value of the land, which is the amount of money that the government is offering for the property. The appraiser will inspect the property and will review all other elements that might affect property value. Home or land owners can either accept or reject the government’s offering price. It is best to work with a lawyer in deciding whether or not to accept the government’s appraisal price and to protect your legal rights. There are often aspects of compensation that only an experienced lawyer may able to identify.
The eminent domain process begins when your property is identified for acquisition by whatever condemning authority is in charge of the project. Early on, the condemning authority will typically obtain an appraisal of your property, which it uses to form the basis for its valuation of your property. The condemning authority can then begin its preparations for filing condemnation papers in the appropriate court. At least 30- days prior to filing these condemnation papers, the condemning authority must provide you with notice that it is planning to take the your property and how much the condemning authority believes it is worth. However, in North Carolina, the condemning authority is NOT required to make an offer to purchase your property before suing you.
Upon filing the complaint for condemnation, the condemning authority will deposit the amount it believes your property is worth with the court and may then legally take possession of your property. You or your lawyer then have 120 days to file an answer admitting or denying the contents of the complaint for condemnation, including the alleged value of your property. This is also the appropriate time to object to the entire condemnation if you believe it is not for a public use. Failure to file this answer will result in judgment for the condemning authority and a determination that the amount deposited is the fair market value of your land.
Commissioners can also be appointed to determine just compensation for your property. You can include a request to the clerk for appointment these commissioners in your answer, or the request may be made by motion of either the owner or the condemnor within 60 days after the filing of the answer. The court will then appoint three disinterested persons from the county to appraise the property and file their findings with the court. After the commissioners file their valuation report, the parties can accept the commissioners’ valuation, or either party can “except” to the commissioners’ findings, meaning that party disagrees with the commissioners’ conclusions. If either party files exceptions to the report, then the court will grant a trial de novo, which essentially means the process will start again from the beginning. The commissioners’ report is thrown out and the process continues as if it never existed.
If neither party requests commissioners or if either party excepts to the commissioners’ report, then the dispute will be set for trial. The parties can then conduct discovery and file any appropriate motions in anticipation of trial. At trial, a jury is chosen to determine the value of the property. Either party may appeal the jury’s award. Additionally, as frequently happens in civil litigation, the parties are free to settle the dispute outside of court at any time before or during the jury trial.
What are the unique issues that face commercial property owners in condemnation that can make all the difference?LEARN MORE
Landowners forget this one thing when dealing with utility companies that want an easement across their land.LEARN MORE
What you need to know to be treated fairly by the condemning authority.LEARN MORE
Before going alone against the State let us give you our opinion. It is our pledge that we will provide a free case review for any individual or business facing eminent domain or condemnation. Contact us now at 888-318-3761