A Step-by-Step Guide to the Eminent Domain Process in North Carolina

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If the government has contacted you regarding acquiring your property for public use or a public works project, you might be feeling confused, stressed, and overwhelmed. Both the United States Constitution and North Carolina law provide the federal and state governments with the power of eminent domain — and condemnation. This is the legal procedure by which the government may seize private property for a public benefit. While there is no way to stop eminent domain in North Carolina, it’s important to have an understanding of what you should expect during the process.

1. Pre-Condemnation Planning

Public projects are often planned and announced many years ahead of time. A property owner might first learn that their property will be taken by the government for public use when preliminary surveys are conducted or engineering data is collected. Although North Carolina law permits a potential condemnor to enter a landowner’s property for these purposes, they must pay for any damages that their entry onto the land caused.

2. Notification Your Property is Needed for a Government Project

The eminent domain process in North Carolina begins with notice from the government that your property is needed for a public project. With direct condemnation, the government may notify you in a few different ways. Typically, you would receive a letter in the mail and a public hearing is held. The government might also use a right of way agent who would approach you near the beginning of the condemnation process and explain the project. This usually happens after the condemning authority has already completed extensive planning regarding the proposed construction.

3. An Offer is Made to Purchase the Land

Although the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment permits the government to take your property, you must be offered “just compensation” for your land. In other words, you must be paid fairly and adequately in return for the government seizing your property. Under North Carolina law, just compensation for an entire parcel of land is its fair market value on the date of the taking. Just compensation for a partial taking is measured by the difference in the fair market value of the whole parcel immediately before the taking and the fair market value of the remaining land following the taking.

The government will use an appraisal to determine just compensation, but you also have the right to conduct your own valuation of the land under the eminent domain laws in North Carolina. Be careful getting your own appraisal, however, because if it is low or inaccurate, it could be used against you, which is typically why we do not recommend any landowners obtain their own appraisal prior to retaining an attorney. If you accept the government’s initial offer, you will receive the compensation and the acquisition process ends upon the recording of the deed for the area acquired of your property. If you refuse the government’s offer, which we typically recommend for landowners, the money is deposited with the court and your property will still be taken — however, you can litigate against the condemning authority until you reach an agreement with them or have a trial to determine just compensation. The litigation process in North Carolina is very landowner friendly and does not place many hard deadlines to force landowners into court hearings.

Significantly, condemnors such as the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and North Carolina Department of Administration are required by law to attempt “good faith” negotiations with landowners before pursuing a lawsuit. However, this requirement is not imposed on local condemnors. In practice, the definition of “good faith” is open to interpretation.

4. Court Proceedings

If you and the condemning authority cannot reach an agreement regarding the amount of compensation you should receive for the taking, the condemning authority will file a lawsuit in the county where the property is located. But it’s important to understand that even though you have the right to challenge a taking, you typically cannot stop the government from seizing your property.

Critically, any successful challenges to eminent domain in North Carolina must usually pertain to the public use test. If you can prove the taking is not for a public benefit, the seizure would be considered unlawful — if the taking is for a public purpose and you are provided with just compensation, the government has the power to condemn your private property. Nevertheless, you can still present evidence to show that your property is worth more than the amount the taking authority offered.

In North Carolina, both the property owner and the condemning authority must participate in mediation if an agreement is not reached. During mediation sessions, a neutral third party called a mediator will assist the government and property owner with settling the case with their respective attorneys. In the event mediation is unsuccessful, the issue of just compensation will then be heard and determined by a jury.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Eminent Domain Attorney

If you are facing a condemnation case, it’s essential to have a skillful attorney by your side to guide you through the condemnation process — and ensure you are awarded just compensation. Located in Charlotte, Murray Law provides reliable representation to landowners for matters pertaining to eminent domain in North Carolina. We welcome you to call Murray Law’s Charlotte office at 704-940-9095 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.

Categories: Eminent Domain