Eminent Domain Basics
At Century Law Group, LLP, our California attorneys are here to assist you with a full array of eminent domain issues. Visit the pages below for specific information:
- Retaining a lawyer in your eminent domain case
- Helpful terms to know
- Codes that may apply in your situation
We also encourage you to read the frequently asked questions and answers here:
What is Eminent Domain?
Eminent domain (also known as condemnation) is the inherent power of local, state, or federal government agencies to take a citizen’s private property. The government can take the property without the owner’s consent so long as the property will be used for “public use” and the owner is paid “just compensation.”
Why can the government take my property?
The government’s right to take personal property for public use so long as it pays just compensation is enumerated in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 19 of the California Constitution. People often refer to it as the takings clause.
Can I fight the government?
Most government agencies have the power of eminent domain. In fact, over 380 municipalities in California have created redevelopment agencies with eminent domain power. However, on occasion there are instances where a successful challenge of a taking could be made when necessity or public use is not found.
More likely, a successful challenge can be made to the government’s initial compensation offer for the taking. Century Law Group, LLP can assist you in your attempt to seek a higher compensation for your property interest.
Can I negotiate with the government?
You can negotiate with the government. Typically, after the government agency has given the initial offer, you can try to negotiate a higher amount directly with the government official. However, once a complaint has been filed and a lawsuit has commenced, the informal negotiation period has ended. An answer to the complaint must be filed within 30 days of the complaint being served. After the complaint has been answered, yourself or your attorney will participate in mandatory settlement conferences during the pretrial stage of the lawsuit.
What if I rent the property instead of owning it?
Depending on the terms of your lease, if you are a tenant of property being condemned, the government still needs to pay you just compensation if the taking has interfered with your enjoyment of possessory rights in the property. A tenant can often receive the present value of his or her future right to possess and use the property if the lease does not contain a condemnation clause. Under certain circumstances, even if the lease does contain a condemnation clause, the tenant also has a right to compensation for removable fixtures and equipment, relocation costs, and business goodwill.
What if only part of my property is taken?
The government will often just take a portion of someone’s property, in order to widen a road, for example. If the government does not take your entire property, it is still required to pay you just compensation, called severance damages. In this case, severance damages will usually include the value of the part of property taken, plus the damage to the remaining property. Depending on the circumstances, the damage to the remaining property can be quite high.
Can I receive compensation before the completion of a lawsuit?
Typically when a lawsuit is commenced, the government agency will deposit into the state treasury an amount of money it determines to be the probable compensation based off its expert appraisal report. After deposit, the government agency may request early possession of the property prior to a judgment. The property owner can request to withdraw this deposit prior to a judgment as well. This does not affect your ability to obtain a higher amount of compensation at a later date, either through settlement or judgment.
What happens if I ignore the complaint?
Once the government has filed and served you with a complaint, a lawsuit has commenced. Property owners sometimes think they can ignore the complaint, or continue negotiating with the government agency. However, once a complaint has been served, you have 30 days to respond to the complaint by filing an answer with the court. If you do not file this answer, you may have a default judgment entered against you. This means the government will pay you the amount stated in the complaint, which is often a lower amount the property owner truly deserves. While it is sometimes possible to get this default judgment vacated, it cannot be guaranteed.