How homeowners can prepare for eminent domain

It’s been your home for decades. You raised your family there, played baseball with the kids in the backyard, and hosted plenty of neighborhood barbecues. But now the local school district has thrown a monkey wrench into your plans to stay in this house until the day you die.

Eminent domain. Along with a few other residences in the neighborhood, your two-story home has been condemned to make way for a new high school with plenty of parking lots. Your house just happens to be where the new parking lot will be.

Upsetting, frustrating

The situation brings out predictable emotions: anger, frustration, tears and a sense of defeat. It’s just plain upsetting, but you will have to accept what will happen.

Eminent domain is a federal, state and local government power to take private land for public use in certain situations such as building or expanding a new school, highway, hospital, library or even sports stadium. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the seeds for eminent domain in its “Takings Clause” that prohibits the federal government from taking private property for public use “without just compensation.”

Things to do

If this happens to you, make sure learn as much about the law as you can and prepare for any proceedings, which may take months. Here are a number of things that you should consider doing:

  • Contact an experienced attorney who specializes in eminent domain.
  • Obtain a second opinion regarding the appraisal of your property. The government must determine “just compensation” for your property and will provide its own appraiser to determine your property’s market value. Look out for yourself and hire an independent third-party appraiser for another opinion.
  • You want to work out the best deal possible, and obtain a substantial enough offer in order for you to buy a comparable home. In many areas, home prices have drastically increased, so what you paid for the home 15 years ago will likely not get you a comparable home today. Get what you deserve, and aim high for compensation.
  • Another area to pursue: Insist that you are paid for relocation expenses. It’s not cheap to move as you will likely have to hire movers, place items in temporary storage and even rent a dumpster. Negotiate to get them to pay for it.

It’s not easy saying goodbye to your home, and it smarts when it’s essentially taken away from you through eminent domain. But you’ve likely known about the government’s plan for a few years, so you will have time to prepare as best as you can. Accept the change, move on and adapt to your newest home.

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Robert J. Ernst III, Attorney at Law
149 Bonifacio Place
Monterey, CA 93940

Phone: 831-753-6125
Fax: 831-373-2566
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