Land Condemnation Lawyers

Eminent Domain & Land Condemnation Lawyers in S.C.

Federal, state and local governments have the power to buy your property for public use, even if you don’t want to sell it. However, the government must pay you “just compensation” for your land. In other words, a fair and reasonable price must be paid.

The government’s fundamental right to purchase private property to put to a public use is known as “eminent domain.” When a landowner and the government disagree about how much the property is worth, the government brings a “land condemnation” case in court.

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Despite the term “condemnation,” this process does not mean there is anything wrong with the property or that its owner has done anything wrong. Rather, it is merely the name for the legal process used to determine just compensation for the taking.

If a government agency is seeking to exert its eminent domain over property you own, you should seek legal counsel to make sure you get all the money you are legally entitled to for your property. Our land condemnation lawyers at Joye Law Firm help landowners in South Carolina secure full and fair compensation for their properties.

Just Call Joye Law Firm now to find out how we can help you maximize your compensation in a land condemnation case. You can reach us by phone or fill out our online contact form to discuss your case with an attorney.

What is Eminent Domain?

The government has the inherent power to take private property to use it for public purposes. However, there are limits on that power. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and provisions of the South Carolina Constitution provide certain rights and guarantees to private landowners.

For example, the government must pay the owner a fair price for the property. That concept is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment’s statement, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Fifth Amendment also guarantees “due process of law” for landowners whose property the government seeks to take. That means the government must follow proper procedures when taking private property. These guarantees apply to state and local governments through the Fourteenth Amendment.

The South Carolina Constitution makes similar guarantees, and also prohibits governments from taking private property for non-public-use economic development purposes. Art. I, Sect. 13 of the S.C. Constitution states, “[P]rivate property shall not be taken for private use without the consent of the owner, nor for public use without just compensation being first made for the property. Private property must not be condemned by eminent domain for any purpose or benefit including, but not limited to, the purpose or benefit of economic development, unless the condemnation is for public use.”

Local, state and federal governments – and their many agencies and public utilities – frequently exercise eminent domain for a variety of public purposes. For example, the state highway department might need a parcel of land to build a road, or a local board of education might need land for a new school. Sometimes the government needs just a part of a property (a partial taking), or it may only need access to the property to install and maintain equipment. This is called an “easement,” and examples include a town water department running water and sewer lines across private property or a power company installing power lines.

How the Land Condemnation Process Works

The Eminent Domain Procedure Act (S.C. Code Ann. Sect. 28-2-10 et seq.) sets out the process for how land condemnation actions proceed. Although the statute and provisions of the state and federal constitutions provide many protections, landowners must actively stand up for their rights.

Determining just compensation is usually the biggest issue in a land condemnation action. The government might first try to negotiate a price with the landowner. If the government and landowner cannot agree on a price, the government may file a land condemnation action to get the courts involved in the process of determining just compensation and other matters.

This is the stage where appraisals and real estate expertise come into play. For the compensation to be just, it must take into account all of the economic factors about the property, including its highest and best use, as well as how the taking affects the remainder of the property if it is not a complete taking.

Property owners should not bend to the government’s pressure to accept too little in these proceedings. It is your private property and the law gives you the right to compensation that fairly and fully compensates you for it.

Negotiating a Better Price in a South Carolina Eminent Domain Case

Many people mistakenly believe that just because the government offers them fair market value on their home or property means that they must take the offered amount, mainly because they do not feel that the government is open for negotiations. This could not be further from the truth. The government wants your land as quickly as possible, and they are willing to allow some wriggle room to ensure that you are ready to sell and vacate the property without complicating the process any further.

Typically, when the government assigns a value to a piece of property, they take several factors into consideration, including:

  •      Whether or not the land is developed;
  •      How many individuals own that piece of land;
  •      Whether or not the land has any exceptional or unusual feathers; and
  •      What the value of surrounding properties is worth.

For a piece of undeveloped land with a single owner and no unique or unusual features to speak of, the valuation method of the property may be pretty simple and straightforward, and may not leave much room for negotiation. However, when the government gets involved with a property that has several owners and several lessees – such as a shopping center in the center of town – the valuation process becomes a bit more complicated.

Additionally, if the piece of property overlooks a unique geographical feature or natural attraction, the difference between the government’s estimation of the property and the property owner’s is going to be quite large. Typically, it is with these more unique properties that the government and property owners may call in their experts, such as professional appraisers, to re-determine the property’s value.

When expert appraisers come in to determine the value of a piece of property in a South Carolina eminent domain case, there are several other factors that they are going to consider that the government did not when making their initial valuation. Those factors include:

  •      The property’s size;
  •      How the property is going to be zoned;
  •      What kinds of buildings and roads currently exist on the property;
  •      What the property is currently being used for;
  •      What the property could be used for;
  •      How accessible the property is;
  •      What other business or land uses are adjacent or nearby; and
  •      Whether or not there are landholders or leaseholders involved.

It is important to note that while the government may be open to negotiations, a piece of property is only ever going to be worth so much to them. For instance, for many individuals, a piece of property is their livelihood, one that they may have invested everything they have into. To those individuals, setting a value on their property is really not something they are willing and able to do. Unfortunately, to the government, a piece of property is a piece of property, and while they are willing to negotiate somewhat, they are only willing to pay what an interested buyer who is not obligated to buy might pay to an interested seller who is not obligated to sell.

Valuation Methods Used in South Carolina Eminent Domain Cases

When experts and the courts work together to determine the value of a piece of property, they typically approach the valuation in one of three ways:

1)   The market approach;

2)   The cost approach; and

3)   The income approach.

Under the market approach, an appraiser will base the value off of recent sales of nearby properties with comparable features. Based on these sales, and after comparing what the property in question has and does not have that the comparable property does, the appraiser will form an opinion as to what the property in question should be valued at on the open market. Unfortunately, and especially in hard times, there may have been no recent sales in the area, rendering the market approach virtually useless.

Under the cost approach, the appraiser will consider what it might cost for the individual to replace their current piece of property with a similar piece of property, and to rebuild the existing structures. Unfortunately, under the cost approach, depreciation is taken into consideration, and the value of the existing structures is calculated based off of their current condition, and not what it cost the property owner to build them or buy them brand new, as they probably did.

Under the income approach, the appraiser will deliberate the investment value of the property, or what a potential buyer might pay today based on the property’s income potential.

Timing of the Valuation Plays a Role in Property Value

If the government did not want to pay the valued price of a piece of land, they could just wait until the opportune moment to decide that they need the land. For instance, if the government is interested in a housing development that has a prime location at the foothills of a mountain and right next to a suite of small lakes and ponds, the value of each person’s property is going to be fairly significant. Instead of approaching the property owners in that area at the start of the project, they could just wait until the area is in full demolition mode, with half of the lakes and ponds filled in and the starts of a freeway running between the development and the foothills.

Fortunately, delaying the acquisition of subject’s property until its value has significantly decreased because of the government’s actions is illegal. The government is not allowed up to buy up properties adjacent to high-value properties and let them fall apart until property owners can no longer sell their homes even if they wanted to. Though eminent domain law does imply that the government does not have to recompense an individual for his or her property until they have actually acquired it and/or significantly diminished his or her ability to use it, employing lowball techniques such as those mentioned above leaves the door wide open for complaints and claims from the property owner.

Get Help from a South Carolina Eminent Domain Lawyer

If your property is subject to a land condemnation action, you need a strong advocate to make sure you get the compensation the law says you deserve. You need attorneys who work with appraisers, real estate experts, economic experts and others to make a solid case for maximum compensation.

Are you facing a land condemnation action in South Carolina? Call Joye Law Firm. Our attorneys are ready to discuss your situation and your legal options. You can reach us by phone or fill out our online contact form now to find out how we can help you.

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