Introduction to Eminent Domain in North Carolina
Harvell and Collins, P.A. has expanded its practice into the area of eminent domain. Accordingly, we would like to take the opportunity to briefly explain to our clients some of the basic concepts surrounding this area of law.
What is Eminent Domain?
Eminent domain is the power of the government (local, state, or federal), to obtain private property for the public benefit. When the government wishes to exercise its power of eminent domain, it does so by instituting a condemnation proceeding. This is also commonly referred to as a “taking.”
When Can a State or Federal Government Exercise Eminent Domain?
Private property may only be condemned or “taken” if it is for a clearly-defined public purpose or if it is out of public necessity. Although the concept of public purpose has recently been expanded by the United States Supreme Court, it is usually manifested in public works projects such as parks, roads, bridges, schools, and other public buildings.
Does the Government Have to Pay the Property Owner?
The government must pay the property owner for the taking. No owner may be deprived of his private property without just compensation. This concept dates back to old English common law and is firmly established in the United States Constitution, as well as in our state constitution and statutes. Determining the amount of ‘just compensation’ is often a source of dispute.
How Does the Condemnation Process Work?
The Condemnation Process begins when a property owner receives a notice from the condemning entity that informs the owner of the condemnation and contains an initial offer of ‘just compensation.’ The two parties may negotiate over the compensation, but if no agreement is reached, the condemnor will bring condemnation proceedings in superior court. After the condemnor posts a cash bond, the court will direct that the title to the property be transferred. The owner may then pursue damages over and above the amount of the deposit.
Does the Property Owner Need an Attorney?
The Condemnation Process is designed to protect the rights of the private property owner against abuse by the condemnor. However, the condemnation process is extremely complex and difficult for a layperson to navigate. While there are statutes designed to protect the property owner, it is the obligation of the owner to understand and exercise his or her rights. For example, ‘just compensation’ is to be determined by the “highest and best use” of the property. However, the initial offer communicated by the condemnor may be far less than that. Without the assistance of a skilled attorney, it is very difficult to ensure that the rights of the property owner are protected and that the property owner is justly compensated.
We hope that our clients find this introduction to eminent domain helpful and informative. Please remember that Harvell and Collins, P.A. is ready to assist you in all condemnation matters.