Eminent domain is the right of the government to take private property for public use in exchange for compensation paid to the property owner.
The news that the government is asserting its eminent domain power against your personal or business property may come as a shock, but the Business Trial Group wants property owners to know they are not powerless in the face of state authority.
Property owners threatened by eminent domain have rights.
Florida, in particular, has some of the strongest private property protections in the country. Property owners in Florida threatened by eminent domain are entitled to attorney representation, and in many cases, the government must pay the owner’s attorney fees. In addition to compensation for the value of your taken property, you may be eligible for business damages, severance damages, and other special damages.
If the government intends to seize your property — or if it’s been taken without declaration — the Business Trial Group’s eminent domain lawyers can help. Our contingency fee attorneys will make sure that the government’s eminent domain claim is legal and that you are fully compensated for your property — without the burden of hourly fees.
How Eminent Domain Works
The government has the right to take your property through an eminent domain proceeding, but this right is not unlimited. Eminent domain rules and procedure, as outlined in Florida state law, must be followed.
Acquiring property through eminent domain is also known as “condemnation.” The condemning authority may be any of the following:
- Federal, state, or municipal government
- Governmental agency (such as the Florida Department of Transportation)
- Public utility company
When Property May Be Taken
Condemned property can only be taken for a clear “public use.” While the courts can leniently interpret what constitutes a public use, the term typically covers private land taken in order to build public purpose projects such as:
- Public roads and highways
- Fire and police stations
- Parks and conservation areas
- Court houses and other public buildings
- Public infrastructure
Property may also be transferred via eminent domain to a private company providing public works that include:
In the State of Florida, property cannot be acquired through eminent domain to prevent or eliminate public nuisance, slum, or blight conditions.
What Is The Eminent Domain Process?
If you have been contacted by a condemning authority in Florida about seizing your property, you can likely expect the following steps to take place during the eminent domain process:
1. The property owner is given notice of the government’s intent to seize their land and is given a settlement offer. For business properties, the government is not obligated to negotiate a settlement.
2. The owner has 30 days to respond to the offer before the condemning authority can file a lawsuit. In the case of a condemned business, the business owner has 180 days to respond and request special business damages.
3. If the owner does not respond within 30 days, or if the owner doesn’t wish to sell, the condemning authority will respond with an eminent domain lawsuit to seize the land. This will require a judge to decide whether the condemning authority has the right to take the property by eminent domain, which is called an “order of taking.”
4. Then a preliminary hearing is held, at which time the property owner may challenge the eminent domain action.
5. If the property owner’s challenge is unsuccessful, the eminent domain action moves forward, and a jury trial is held to determine the full compensation for the property, plus any additional damages the owner is entitled to. Either side may appeal the jury’s final decision.
How Eminent Domain Can Affect Business Owners
Business owners whose property is taken via eminent domain may be able to recover additional damages associated with the taking, including:
- Loss of profits and productivity
- Loss of goodwill
- Costs related to moving and selling equipment
- Costs related to obtaining a replacement property and building a replacement facility
Business damages are not specifically defined under Florida law—and are ultimately decided by a jury and based on sound accounting principles and legal arguments.
Whether you own the condemned commercial property or operate a business on the property as a tenant, eminent domain business damages may be available. However, in order to qualify for business damages, the following conditions must generally be met:
- Less than the entire property is sought (business damages aren’t available in total takes)
- The condemning authority is a public body, not a utility company.
- Condemnation is sought for right-of-way, such as to create room for a road.
- The business has been established for at least 5 years on land adjoining the condemned property
The condemning authority is not obligated to make the business owner an initial offer for business damages. It is incumbent upon the business owner, after receiving an eminent domain notice, to submit a written initial offer of business expenses, along with the required documentation, within 180 days. Missing this deadline can result in the loss of a business damages claim.
In the event that you don’t quality for business damages, severance damages—measured by the reduction in value of any remaining property—may be recoverable.
Inverse Condemnation vs. Eminent Domain
The government does not always follow eminent domain procedure. In some cases, the government takes private property without declaration and without compensating the owner. When this happens, property owners have legal recourse through what is known as an inverse condemnation lawsuit.
The property owner initiates an inverse condemnation action.
When condemnation does not occur in accordance with eminent domain law, the owner may seek a court order declaring that a taking has occurred and, if the order is granted, the owner can then receive just compensation for their condemned property.
Inverse condemnation actions are not limited to physical takings of property. Inverse condemnation can also arise due to a “regulatory taking,” which occurs when the government passes a regulation that restricts a property owner from deriving an economic benefit from their property. Regulatory takings most commonly occur through zoning ordinances and development restrictions.
In addition, physical takings may take the form of property rights restrictions, such as access restrictions.
The Business Trial Group Helps Property Owners Facing Eminent Domain And Inverse Condemnation
The Business Trial Group’s eminent domain attorneys are focused on achieving the best possible outcome for property owners threatened by condemnation.
Depending on the circumstances, we may be able to successfully challenge the government taking. At the very least, we will work with experts to obtain full compensation for your property and any other resulting damages.
Our attorneys specialize in complex litigation and have a track record of trial success. We handle all types of business and real estate disputes on a contingency-fee basis. With offices throughout Florida and the Southeast, our eminent domain lawyers can assist you wherever your claim arises.
Learn more about how we can help property owners in an eminent domain proceeding during a free case review.