Know your Eminent Domain Rights

How to Protect Yourself from Eminent Domain

While the government may have the power to take your property through eminent domain, you are entitled to due process rights and just compensation.

No one wants the government to take their property away, especially for a price less than the property is worth. However, under federal, state, and local laws for “eminent domain” or “condemnation,” the government is able to do just that, and also bring legal action against you if you refuse.

While the government may compel you to transfer title to them, they are required to pay you the fair market value of property. Without representation, however, there is a much higher likelihood that the government will try to pay you as little as possible.

The eminent domain process can be intimidating, especially to those unaccustomed to it, and you may want to know how to protect yourself from eminent domain actions. Thus,  many will accept the government’s initial (often very low) offer without question. This is a mistake. If you are a property owner facing loss of your property, you are entitled to seek legal counsel to protect your rights and prevent the government from taking advantage of you.

Is There Any Way to Stop Eminent Domain?

The experienced eminent domain and condemnation real estate lawyers at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess have represented countless property owners in eminent domain cases. While we cannot prevent eminent domain, we can make sure you are fairly compensated for your property. We do this by being your ally, at your side, to assure that the government acts legally, and follows all of the required procedures throughout the condemnation process.

While our overall goal is to make sure you are paid fairly for your property, that’s not all the attorneys do at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess. We also alleviate your burden by handling all paperwork, procedures, and negotiations with the government to make sure you get the most compensation available.

Though a property owner can go through the eminent domain process without attorney guidance, it is unwise to do so. With experienced legal counsel, the likelihood of getting the fair market value for your property is far greater than if you were to proceed without legal representation.

We offer a free phone consultation. Call us today at 206-621-1110 to get started.

Learn Your Rights in an Eminent Domain Action

It has been said that “knowing is half the battle.” With that in mind, the first step in protecting your rights in an eminent domain matter is to understand the law. At Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, we encourage string lines of communication with our clients so that we may inform them regarding their rights during the eminent domain process. Eminent domain, or the right of condemnation, is a power that is held by federal, state, and local governments and is principally found in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, as well as the Washington State Constitution, as well as in the Washington State Constitution.

In Washington, as in other states, governmental entities can use the eminent domain power to take an individual’s private property for a public purpose, even if the landowner is unwilling to sell. (Pub. Util. Dist. No. 2 of Grant County v. N. Am. Foreign Trade Zone Indus., LLC, 159 Wash. 2d. 555, 151 P.3d 176 (2007).)

This governmental right is not without limits, however: though governmental entities may to take your land, the law requires that the government justly compensate the landowner for the property at the fair market value. (Washington Constitution Article I, §16; RCW 8.04.010, 8.04.090, 8.04.092.). To do this, the stale also outlines strict procedural slips that must be observed in order to satisfy this requirement. Thus, eminent domain attorneys typically provide two key services: first, the make the government stay honest and follow the eminent domain process, and second, they make sure that you actually receive the proper value for your property.

Is There Legal Protection from Eminent Domain?

It is theoretically possible for an eminent domain lawyer to block a government’s condemnation, but it’s extremely difficult. The property owner must show that the reasons for taking your property do not meet the requirements for public necessity or public purpose.(In other words, the government can’t simply take what it wants, simply because it wants it. It must have a public-connected reason to do so.)

  • Purpose –Simply put: if the government lacks an adequate public purpose for taking your land, it is possible you could stop their eminent domain effort.
  • Necessity – If the government attempts to acquire more property than necessary to satisfy the public purpose, you may be able to stop the taking, or at least limit the amount of property it can take.

In short, the government must have a public-oriented reason for the condemnation, AND can only take what is actually needed to meet that goal.

But is there a practical way to stop eminent domain in light of the government’s power? Because the costs can be significant to challenge eminent domain in Washington State, real estate lawyers will often seek to find other property owners facing the same challenge and join forces. That way, property owners can find strength in numbers and pool their resources to more-aggressively counter the government’s condemnation attempt.

While your options to stop the government from taking your property under eminent domain are limited, you can protect yourself from being taken advantage of by having a lawyer on your side. The attorneys at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess can help. We can help by . . .

  • Making sure that the taking of your property is truly for public use, has an adequate purpose, and is necessary for the governmental purpose;
  • Reviewing all offers of payment from the government to see if they are adequate compared to the value of your property;
  • Negotiating the amount of payment so that it legitimately reflects full and just compensation;
  • Seeking compensation for your additional expenses, such as for relocation and loss of value for adjourning property;
  • Fighting for you in court if an agreement cannot be reached.

Rules of Eminent Domain – What Is the Process?

The eminent domain process generally follows the following steps:

  • The process generally begins with a governmental entity recognizing a need for a public project within the limits of its jurisdiction.
  • Once it has recognized this need, the governmental entity will then inform the public of the project and then commence the preliminary work.
  • With the project in its early stages, the next step is for the governmental entity to identify the private property and property owners affected by the project.
  • The government must then put the property owners on notice that their property is needed for the project. This is generally done by sending a notice letter to the property owners via mail. The notice tells the property owners that every effort will be made to reach an acceptable agreement on the price to be paid, but that if no agreement can be reached, the governmental entity will exercise its eminent domain power and force acquisition of the property. (In other words, the government tries to be diplomatic, at first.)
  • Once notice of the government’s intention is given to the property owners, the governmental entity will send an appraiser to each affected property to take measurements and descriptions. The appraiser will then draft an appraisal for each property subject to eminent domain.
  • When each appraisal is completed, the governmental entity will create and distribute just compensation offers for each property owner.

Real estate attorneys who practice eminent domain law will commonly become engaged at this stage. This is to be expected, as without an offer from the government, the property owners and eminent domain attorneys don’t have something to contest yet. As mentioned above, the government must compensate the property owner justly to comply with the law. At the same time, the government is subject to budgetary constraints imposed upon them by the public. Thus, there is tremendous pressure for government officials overseeing these projects to push the property owners to the lowest possible price.

Can You Negotiate Eminent Domain in Washington State?

These offers aren’t strict, in the “take it or leave it” sense. With an offer in hand, the property owners may now negotiate with the government for a better price.  If negotiations do not lead to an agreement between the parties, the governmental entity can eventually file an eminent domain action in court, which ultimately allows the government to take the property once it pays the final order.

As you can see, the eminent domain process can be complex, confusing, and, not to mention, time-intensive. Because an individual property owner is often left alone to negotiate with a governmental entity, it is most beneficial for individuals who are faced with a condemnation proceeding to hire an experienced eminent domain lawyer to increase their chances of getting the most compensation for their property.

If you or your business is faced with a condemnation proceeding, please give us a call at 206-621-1110.

Contact Our Condemnation and Eminent Domain Attorneys

At Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, our condemnation attorneys have extensive experience in representing clients involved in condemnation/eminent domain proceedings. Our attorneys have successfully represented clients throughout Seattle, Tacoma, and the Puget Sound Region in their various eminent domain matters.

If you or your business is involved in a condemnation proceeding, obtaining legal counsel to represent you is extremely important. Keep in mind that the governmental entity exercising eminent domain power over your property does not take into account your personal interests. With experienced legal counsel, the likelihood of your getting a greater amount of compensation for your property is far greater than if you were to proceed through a condemnation proceeding without legal representation.

At Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess our attorneys will work closely with you and will work diligently to protect your interests.

Call us today for a free and confidential consultation at 206-621-1110.

Attorney Robert Dickson

Attorney Robert DicksonThe core of Rob’s legal practice is civil litigation, with an emphasis on construction, real estate, and business law. He represents a wide range of clients, from large construction companies to individual homeowners. His is a practical approach to law, which strives to balance the need for a successful legal outcome with a client’s financial goals (or constraints). Outside of his private practice, Rob serves as an adjunct professor at the Seattle University School of Law where he teaches real estate litigation. [ Attorney Bio ]

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