At Sever Storey Law Firm, we work exclusively for LANDOWNERS. WE believe that the State of Illinois and the Constitution demand that property owners receive just compensation for any land taken through condemnation and/or the eminent domain process. This is not a sales pitch. This is our core and fundamental belief. It is our mission to represent Illinois landowners and hold the taking authority accountable under the Constitution for any land acquired through the eminent domain process. We never have and never will represent the State, municipality, utility or any other taking authority. Our firm has made it our goal and principle.
For most people visiting us, this may be your first experience with hiring a lawyer. Naturally, you probably have several questions. Let’s address the major ones. Please bear in mind, however, that every case is different, potentially having many facets and intricate details. The responses provided below are designed to answer general, big picture questions. If you want to discuss your individual case please give one of our lawyers a call or send us an email for a free consultation.
At Sever Storey we provide results and solutions for Illinois landowners and businesses that face eminent domain and condemnation. Our attorneys have a large body of practical experience in solving problems that may arise in the Illinois eminent domain or condemnation process. We will go to the mat for landowners against the State of Illinois, municipal governments, pipelines, power lines, and/or developers. We have represented farmers, business owners, and residential landowners on projects ranging from commercial takings—where millions of dollars were at issue to small setback cases. We have even taught other attorneys how to help clients faced with eminent domain or condemnation. We have the ability to use our experience and identify issues in your situation that you may never have considered. When we give recommendations and advice you can rest assured it is tied to real world applications and comes from a breadth of a free consultation.
Eminent domain is the Constitutional power of public authorities to acquire private property for a public, and in some situations private, purpose. Occasionally, states or localities will bestow this power to administrative agencies, utilities companies, and/or local boards, e.g. library boards. Condemnation is the act itself of a government exercising its power of eminent domain. This should not be confused with the legal process where a building is designated to be no longer fit for habitation. Historically, private property is often taken for public uses like building roadways, schools, bridges, and more recently certified technology parks. Only a judge may decide whether or not a taking is for a public purpose should there be a dispute between the property owner and the authority.
Condemnation is controlled by state statute. A discussion of the condemnation process can be found following this section. An easy way to grasp the concepts is this: eminent domain is the power to acquire land; condemnation is the process by which they take it.
Property can, in originally narrow (but increasingly expanding) situations, be taken for private projects as well. Over the past few decades, courts have interpreted what constitutes “public use” very broadly. Federal courts have deferred the decision of whether something is for a “public purpose” to the individual state legislatures. For example, some communities now use eminent domain to seize “blighted” neighborhoods for redevelopment into more upscale condominiums and apartments. The state serves as an intermediary in these situations, 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.” The attorneys at Sever Storey have an intricate understanding of these often confusing situations.
While public authorities do retain the right to eminent domain, the U.S. Constitution and state governments likewise guarantee home and landowners the right to just compensation in the event of a condemnation. This right is guaranteed by the 5th and 14th Amendments. Authorities attempt to meet this burden of just compensation by appointing an appraiser to provide a valuation of the subject property, detailing what he or she feels is the fair market value of the acquisition. Generally, this appraisal ends up being the public authority’s offer of just compensation. Once this appraisal is presented to the landowner, he or she may accept or reject the offering price. It is best to work with an attorney in deciding whether or not to accept the government’s appraisal price and to protect your legal rights. There are often many compensable aspects of a landowner’s property that are traditionally not factored into either the state’s appraisal or even a standard appraisal. The attorneys at Sever Storey are well-versed with these aspects.
In particular instances, Illinois authorities may acquire private land for other private ownership or use. Commonly called “PPP” acquisitions (Private to Public to Private), these transfers have come under heavy scrutiny since their “legalization” in the mid 2000s. The State of Illinois has codified the ability to acquire private land for private use under two main guises: Tax Redevelopment Plans and elimination of “blight.” Furthermore, the Illinois Commerce Commission may award otherwise private utility companies eminent domain power to acquire private property. In any case, the acquisition authority must show two main facts to acquire land: (i) the purpose of the project is primarily for the benefit, use, or enjoyment of the public and (ii) it is necessary for a public purpose. The condemnation process for PPP acquisitions is just like a normal condemnation procedure, so to the untrained eye, it may appear like a standard exercise of the power of eminent domain. The attorneys at Sever Storey can recognize when a PPP take is in the works and can correctly utilize the codified safeguards to protect the landowner.
The Illinois condemnation procedure begins long before any sort of litigation may occur. In many public projects, officials from IDOT—or whatever authority seeks appropriation—may attempt to privately negotiate with the landowner. This negotiation process may be as simple as a written or verbal offer or as complex and official as a state appraisal with corresponding offer of just compensation.
If the authority wants to keep its option open for initiating litigation to acquire the landowner’s property, it must provide the landowner, via certified mail, an official offer of just compensation and the basis for this offer (usually an appraisal) at least 60 days before filing an eminent domain suit against the landowner.
If negotiations are ultimately unsuccessful and 60 days have passed after issuing the official offer to the landowner, the authority may file a Complaint for Appropriation of Real Estate. Attached to this Complaint will be a Notice/Summons, notifying the landowner that the authority wishes to acquire the Landowner’s property through eminent domain.
After the Notice/Summons has been properly served, the Court will at some point set a trial date to hear any issues pertaining to the acquisition—including challenging the right of the authority to appropriate and the just compensation owed to landowner resulting from the acquisition. Unlike other states, an authority may NOT take possession of a landowner’s property without first providing just compensation to the landowner.
Quick-Take is an alternate Illinois condemnation procedure that permits an authority to take possession of a Landowner’s property prior to providing just compensation. The power for an authority to acquire land under Quick-Take is granted under only particular projects and must be explicitly legislated by the Illinois General Assembly.
The pre-complaint Quick-Take process is identical to standard eminent domain procedure in Illinois—meaning the authority must still issue an official offer and wait 60 days before filing suit. However, once the authority has filed a complaint, it may at any time before judgment has been entered file a Motion for Quick Take. Upon the Motion, the Court shall fix a date, no later than 5 days after the Motion’s filing, for a hearing.
At this hearing, the Court will determine two issues: (1) whether the authority has the right to acquire and (2) a preliminary finding of compensation. If the Court approves the former, it will then hear evidence as to the latter. A landowner may present any evidence as to just compensation at this hearing, and the court, in its discretion, may appoint three competent and disinterested appraisers as agents of the court to evaluate the property. The Court shall then render an opinion on preliminary just compensation.
If the authority deposits this preliminary just compensation with the appropriate county treasurer, the authority may, for purposes of the project, enter and take possession of the landowner’s property. The landowner may then withdraw this amount, and any withdrawal acts as a bond against the eventual final just compensation amount rendered by the Court. The remainder of the proceeding is identical to the non-Quick-Take procedure–meaning the only issue left to determine is just compensation.
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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