Got the Eminent Domain Blues? We Can Help.

Eminent domain refers to the power possessed by the state over all property within the state, specifically its power to appropriate property for a public use.

If you have ever encountered the exercise of eminent domain against your business property, you understand just how difficult life can become when the government decides to acquire private land for a public use even if you — the owner — do not want to sell.

Even if you’ve never personally experienced this highly invasive legal procedure, if you own property you need to be aware of how this law could some day possibly impact you in a decidedly negative way.

In recent decades there has been growing concern about the manner in which some states and units of government exercise their power of eminent domain. Some governments appear inclined to exercise eminent domain for the benefit of developers or commercial interests, on the basis that anything that increases the value of a given tract of land is a sufficient public use. Critics respond that this supposition is absurd, and that there are few properties, no matter how upscale, which could not be made more valuable if developed in a different manner.

An example of how California property owners can be vulnerable in eminent domain proceedings took place recently in Tehama County, which lies approximately midway between Sacramento and the Oregon border. According to a Red Bluff Daily News article, “Eminent domain grants access in Tehama County,” the realignment of Bowman Road and the replacement of South Fork Cottonwood Creek are moving forward, and the County is reaching deals with the impacted property owners–but only after the commencement of eminent domain proceedings.

Property owners typically are required to respond to an eminent domain complaint 30 days after being served. If no answer is filed, a default can be taken, and the property owner will usually be stuck with the public agency’s appraised value for the taking, and will need to undertake some effort to obtain the proceeds (which are typically deposited with the State Treasurer or the clerk of the court).

One property owner is granting Tehama County a permanent easement and a temporary construction easement for $2,500, and another owner has reached a deal at $50,000. On top of the monetary compensation, the County has agreed to create a driveway encroachment to provide improved access to the property.

But two properties still remain in eminent domain proceedings, and for one owner who has not responded to the complaint it appears a default may be taken. Not responding is the equivalent of surrender.

At Hornberger & Brewer, we fight to prevent such outcomes. We forcefully pursue vindication of our clients’ rights when their property is threatened by eminent domain or building condemnation challenges.

We have developed a reputation of effectively fighting for appropriate compensation in eminent domain proceedings. We can assert appropriate private property rights in litigation. A displaced business may have value in fixtures and equipment, relocation and the loss of goodwill. For example, moving a theme restaurant involves more than market value — the goodwill conferred by the former location has a monetary value.

If your property is subject to eminent domain proceedings, we at Hornberger & Brewer have developed a practice specialty of obtaining appropriate compensation for people in your situation. Our effective approach will make sure that the governmental entity complies with the law, meets its duties and obligations, and compensates you fairly.

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