Land Condemnation in North Carolina: Five Frequently Asked Questions

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If the government is seeking to acquire your land for public use, you may have many questions about eminent domain and the land condemnation law process. Eminent domain was established under the “Takings Clause” of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and allows the government to seize private land for a public benefit. Although you cannot stop the government from taking your land, it’s essential to understand that you still have rights.

Here are five frequently asked questions about eminent domain and land condemnation law in North Carolina:

1. What’s the Difference Between Eminent Domain and Land Condemnation Law Process?

Although the two terms are often confused, it’s important to understand the distinction between eminent domain and the condemnation process. While eminent domain refers to the government’s right to take private property for public use, the condemnation process is the act by which the government carries out this right. Land condemnation can be total or partial — in other words, the government can take the entire parcel of land or just a portion. In addition, a taking may be either temporary (such as in cases where the taking is only needed for a specified duration of time) or permanent.

2. What Qualifies as a Public Use?

In order for the government to assert eminent domain, it must establish that its intended use is for a public benefit. Courts typically allow for a broad definition of “public use,” and usually apply it to anything that is meant to enrich the lives of those in the area. For instance, eminent domain is often used to seize property to build roads, bridges, schools, and parks.

When determining whether a taking is for a public purpose, courts in North Carolina consider two questions: 1) Does the public have a right to definite use of the property, and 2) Would the public accrue a benefit if the property was seized? If both these criteria are not satisfied, the taking would be considered unlawful.

3. Can I Stop a Governmental Taking?

The government has a right to take your property under the eminent domain laws — as long as it is for a public purpose and you are provided with just compensation. Federal, state, and local governments all have the power to condemn private property under eminent domain. North Carolina law specifically delegates this power to certain government agencies, as well as “quasi-public” entities, such as public utility companies.

It's crucial to assess the facts of your specific circumstances to determine whether the government’s taking is lawful. Importantly, you may be able to fight the eminent domain process if you can show that the government entity has failed to meet the requirements of the public use test. Although you won’t be able to stop the process if the test is satisfied, you can still negotiate the best possible price for your land.

4. What Constitutes Just Compensation?

Even if the government meets the public use and benefits test, you are still entitled to receive fair compensation for your land. Under North Carolina law, just compensation for an entire parcel of land is the fair market value of the property on the date of the taking. If the government seeks only a portion of the land, it is considered a “partial taking.” Compensation for a partial taking is measured by the difference in the fair market value of the entire parcel immediately prior to the taking and the fair market value of the land that remains after the taking. Typically, the government will use an appraisal to support its determination of what it considers to be fair compensation.

5. How is Land Appraised by the Government?

Pursuant to North Carolina law, there are three methods that can be used to appraise a property for the purpose of determining just compensation. The “comparable sales approach” compares similar properties that have been purchased and sold. The “income capitalization approach” assesses the property’s earning capabilities and is usually applied to property that produces income. Lastly, the “cost approach” is often used in cases where a property has unique structures which cannot be repurposed — this method evaluates the cost associated with replacing any improvements to the property, minus depreciation, in addition to the value of the land.

While the government’s appraiser will draft a report that is used by the government to make a compensation offer, it's not unusual for the offer to be a low amount. You should consider hiring your own appraiser or bringing an expert into the case who can provide an alternative assessment on your behalf to ensure you receive the fair compensation to which you are entitled.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Eminent Domain Attorney

If you are facing a government taking, it’s vital to have a knowledgeable attorney by your side to guide you through the condemnation process — and ensure you obtain just compensation. Located in Charlotte, Murray Law provides skillful representation to landowners for eminent domain matters. 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