Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do when I receive an initial offer from the government or utility company for my property?

“Hold out, hire us.”  We like to be involved prior the time you receive the initial offer so that we can meet with the government’s appraiser.  This allows us to point out all of your concerns to encourage the government’s appraiser to complete a proper appraisal.

However, regardless of our efforts, the government’s initial offer for your property is usually lower that what you would like to receive and lower than what you can ultimately receive with informed negotiation and litigation.  Do not be afraid of a condemnation lawsuit.

Do not accept the first offer you receive; rather, reach out to an experienced attorney for help.  At Murray Law, we manage these cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning we will only earn a percentage of any additional amount we help you obtain over the initial offer.  The initial offer always goes to you, never to attorney’s fees.  We like to be involved early in your case so that we can meet with the condemning authority’s appraiser and give them the right information to help make your initial offer as high as possible.  The higher your initial offer at the start of your case, logically, the higher the likely result through the lawsuit.

Attempting to negotiate the offer yourself carries risks.  The government wants to you stake yourself out at a lower number than what you may obtain with the assistance of an attorney.  The government takes notes on what you say and tries to use your statements against you.  We have heard from clients that government negotiators actively tell owners to avoid hiring attorneys.  Why? Because they know attorneys typically get more compensation for landowners, attorneys don’t accept the low first offers, and often a obtain a substantial amount more for landowners.

Never obtain your own appraisal prior to consulting with an eminent domain lawyer.  A bad appraisal can substantially harm your ability to negotiate or contest compensation in your case.

My neighbors, who are also affected, accepted their initial offer. Why shouldn’t I?

See above.  Also, fair market value may vary significantly depending upon what is determined to be the highest and best use for your property.  People generally seem to think that you “can’t fight City Hall.”  But that’s not correct.  We do not believe the government intentionally makes bad offers; they just make uninformed offers because the government appraisers typically aren’t as thorough as they should be.  The government often chooses a lesser highest and best use for a property it seeks to acquire through eminent domain so that the governmental entity can justify offering to pay a low “fair” market value for your property.  Landowners should ensure the correct highest and best use is applied to their property, which may be different from the actual use employed by the current owner.  Your neighbors may not realize the actual value of their properties if they aren’t doing their research.  If you’re here reading this, you’re already a step ahead.

When your neighbors learn of the additional amount of compensation you obtain from hiring an attorney, they will often reach out to see if they can get more; however, it will be too late for them since they’ve already accepted the initial offers.

The government’s acquisition agent said it will file a condemnation lawsuit against me if do not agree to sell my property for the project. What happens if I do not agree to settle and sell my property?

We encourage landowners to “hold out, hire us” for a reason.  By forcing condemnation, you are exercising your constitutional and statutory rights to obtain just compensation through the court process.  It is often the only way you will receive the full value for your property if the government refuses to voluntarily pay that amount prior to litigation.  The good news about condemnation is that the government must pay the initial offer into court when it files the lawsuit.  That money can then be obtained by your attorney and go to you to benefit you.  The fact that you obtain those initial funds cannot be held against you in court as your attorney fights for more on your behalf.  Do not be afraid of a lawsuit—it’s often the only way to force the government to pay you fair market value.  Typically, when the NCDOT and City of Charlotte are the condemning authorities, they pay more through the condemnation lawsuit than they would prior to the lawsuit.

Can I stop the government from condemning my property through eminent domain?

The government has the right to exercise its eminent domain powers so long as the proposed taking of your property meets the requirements for public use.  While you cannot stop the government from taking your property under these circumstances, the government must offer you just compensation for the taking.   There are only a few instances under North Carolina case law where a taking was stopped.  North Carolina allows broad taking powers to the governments and utility companies.

If I decide to hire an attorney for my eminent domain and condemnation matter, what should I consider?

When researching attorneys, key considerations should include: (1) whether they routinely handle eminent domain cases; (2) whether they know how to properly “work up” a case—meaning they hire the right experts and put forward the proper evidence to support your case; and (3) whether they are willing to take a case to trial and have experience developing trial strategy. 

If you have a personal attorney, ask for their opinion or referral.  Approximately 80% of our cases are referrals from other lawyers who know our strong reputation. 

The fact that a lawyer used to work for a condemning authority like the NCDOT doesn’t mean they have any extra influence over the government to pay you more or that the government’s attorneys are going to give them more money. Rather, it just means that they used to help the government take land at the lowest values from landowners. 

Murray Law focuses exclusively on representing landowners in eminent domain matters.  David Murray has never represented the government and decided in law school that he wanted to work for landowners against the government.  He has never helped the government take land and property rights from people.

Can I recover damages to the part of my property that is left after a partial taking of my property?

Legally, landowners are entitled to damages to any property remaining after a taking has occurred.  Damages to remaining property is known as severance damages.  When analyzing just compensation for a partial taking, your attorney should consider any potential depreciation in the value of the property remaining after the taking.  If your property is unusable after the taking because the government took such a large area or because the government limited access, you may be left with a property that has no real value, so your request for damages would include a near total taking of value.

I am losing a portion of my business’s parking lot. Should the government pay me more than just the price of the land under the parking area being taken?

This is a common question we receive.  Generally, the answer is yes. For most properties, the existence of parking is important for the use of the property as it was intended and as required by zoning.  When parking is lost due to eminent domain, the remaining property may no longer function the way it did before the taking.  We have seen landowners lose all parking for their commercial properties leaving their customers with no place to park and the business suffers greatly.  This is an example of damages to the remainder that the government frequently chooses to ignore or undervalues in their taking analysis.  Do no assume that the parking spaces in utility easements will always be available for parking.

Will eminent domain laws support my claim for more money based on a potential zoning change to the property?

Yes, a reasonable likelihood of rezoning can be factored into your claim for damages.  However, it must be supported by evidence and typically expert testimony.  We know the right type of experts to hire when the issue of zoning and highest and best use is at issue.

If the taking of my property interferes with or changes how it is accessed, can I receive compensation for that impact?

The impact on access should be compensated by the government, but often there is a dispute based upon the type of access that is impacted.  If direct access is taken, then it must be compensated.  The more difficult situations are when one of two driveways is eliminated or when access is limited to right in and right out.  Those typically take a more detailed analysis regarding the operation and circulation of the site and whether the taking or limitation of access has an impact on highest and best use of the site. 

For example, prior to a taking, a gas station has wide open, curbless access so that tanker trucks can easily maneuver in and out to refill the gas tanks.  After the taking, access is limited to a corner driveway entrance.  Now the trucks cannot properly enter and reach the tanks.  This limitation of access causes a substantial impact to the value of the property and should be compensated.

Am I entitled to recover fees and costs, including attorney’s fees for my condemnation lawsuit?

Unfortunately for nearly all condemnation cases filed by government or utility companies, North Carolina law does not provide for recovery of attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, or other litigation expenses or costs in eminent domain matters.  There are three exceptions to this general rule which are based upon statute: (1) if the landowner is forced to file an inverse condemnation lawsuit (i.e. when the government takes your property without filing the proper paperwork to do so); (2) if a court determines a condemnor does not have authority to take the landowner’s property (rare), the landowner is entitled to recover fees and cost incurred; or (3) if a condemnor abandons the taking (which is also rare and allowed only in certain instances).