What Is Condemnation?

The legal definition of condemnation is the seizure of private property for public use. Condemnation occurs when a local, state, or federal body uses government authority to seize private land and compensates the owner. Once the government decides to take the property and gets an appraisal, it offers the owners a pro tanto award. If the owner does not wish to sell, the government files the appropriate court action to exercise the right of eminent domain. Learn more about condemnation laws below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Condemnation occurs in the U.S. when a local, state, or federal government seizes privately owned property and gives the property owners compensation. The power of the government to do this is called eminent domain, which essentially means the government takes private property for public use. The owner is entitled to just compensation for the property, but he does not have to give his approval of the sale. The governmental entity is just paying the fair amount to make it fair.

How Does Condemnation Action Work?

Most U.S. citizens are aware that the government can seize private land for things like schools, roads, railroads, and other public building projects. However, many do not know that property can be seized for private use as well. One good example of this occurs when there is a severe housing shortage. In such instances, city governments have the authority and power to take property through condemnation and use it for the purposes of building condominiums or apartments. That way, more people can be housed in the area.

In other situations, if an area is considered to have deteriorated, that property can be sold under the power of eminent domain without the property owner’s approval. In either situation, the landowner has rights to just compensation for the condemned real estate.

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What is the process of condemnation and compensation?

The legal process of condemnation has to be followed carefully. Don’t mistake this for the opportunity to challenge it. The owner has to be notified of the pending condemnation before it can move forward. Once it starts, challenging the process will not necessarily delay it.

Generally, the government will pay for an appraisal. The owner can get their own independent appraisal if they don’t feel the value is fair. Unfortunately, a fair appraisal does not account for sentimental value such as family history. The condemnation process in the U.S. may vary slightly depending on the situation, but in general:

  • Once the government agency has decided to take the property and has come up with a reasonable appraisal of how much the property is worth, or fair market value, it will offer the property owner a pro tanto award (a partial payment made by the government as compensation for the land being seized)
  • If the owner does not wish to sell, the government authorities file the appropriate court action to exercise the right of eminent domain
  • A hearing will be scheduled for condemnation proceedings where the government has to show that the monetary offer is reasonable compensation and the property is indeed being taken for public use
  • During the hearing, the property owner is allowed to respond to the claims made
  • If either of the parties is unhappy with the decision, they have legal rights to appeal the outcome

Do You Need Eminent Domain Attorneys?

If you have received a notice of condemnation, it is in your best interests to consult with an attorney for assistance with the legal issues in the matter as soon as possible. On paper, it seems both unfair an unavoidable. A governmental agency is taking your property whether you want them to or not. According to the law, they’re supposed to pay you a fair market value, which often doesn’t match what you might hope for. In the United States, appraisals don’t account for the emotional value people put into their homes.

An experienced law firm can walk you through the process to make it less confusing. Eminent domain and condemnation are complex and vary between states. Federal condemnation comes with its own rules and procedures.

An experienced attorney can guide you through things like if you want to order a second independent appraisal. They can also file appeals or motions to fight the process if applicable. An eminent domain isn’t always hired to fight the process, but rather to make sure everything goes smoothly and act as an advocate for the original private property owner.

If you’re facing condemnation, don’t wait. Get legal help today.

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