Eminent domain, or the right of condemnation, is a power that is held by federal, state, and local governments. The power of eminent domain is provided for under the Fifth Amendment of the United States 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).) While governmental entities may exercise this power, 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.)
Condemnation / Eminent Domain Practice
At Dickson Frohlich, 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 you 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 our attorneys will work closely with you and will work diligently to protect your interests.
The Condemnation/ Eminent Domain Process
The eminent domain 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 normally then inform the public of the project and then commence some preliminary work. With the project in its very early stages, the next step in the eminent domain process is for the governmental entity to find out what specific private property will be affected by the project and who the affected property owners are.
The next step of the process requires putting the property owners on notice that their property is needed for the project. This is generally done by the governmental entity sending a notice letter to the property owners in the mail. The notice will tell 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.
Once notice of the government’s intention is given to the property owners, the governmental entity will then send an appraiser to each affected property to take measurements and descriptions. The appraiser will then draft an appraisal for each property to be taken. When each appraisal is completed, the governmental entity will then create just compensation offers for each property owner. These offers will then be distributed. It is important to know, however, that these offers are not strictly take it or leave it offers. Rather, the property owners may negotiate with the government for a different price. However, if negotiations do not lead to an agreement between the parties, the governmental entity will then 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 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 eminent domain lawyer. With an experienced eminent domain lawyer, the likelihood of you getting the most compensation for your property is far greater than if you go through the process alone. If you or your business is faced with a condemnation proceeding, please give us a call.