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Condemnation: What You Need to Know About the Legal Process

Condemining a Property | Eminent Domain Attorneys in Missouri

The act of condemning a property comes into play when the government uses the court system to exercise its power of eminent domain. Eminent domain is the power, recognized in the Constitution, that the government is justified in condemning a property that is privately owned as long as the taking is carried out for public purpose. The Constitution affords certain protections to the individual citizen whose property is taken, chief among which are the right to just compensation and due process.  State and local laws often provide additional procedural and substantive rights, such as notice requirements and relocation assistance.

If you own a property that is being condemned through eminent domain, it is important to understand that you still have rights. You are entitled to due process, meaning the government must follow certain procedures when condemning a property to ensure that your rights are protected. When faced with condemnation of your property as a result of eminent domain, you should call an attorney as soon as possible to defend your case and protect your rights. In Missouri, The Wallach Law Firm can act as your eminent domain attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

Condemnation:  The Steps Government Uses to Take a Property

When a condemning authority (a public, quasi-public, or sometimes even private entity vested with the power of eminent domain) cannot agree with an owner on a price, it must follow condemnation procedures. There are several steps the condemning authority must follow when condemning a property.  The law requires such procedures to help ensure that an individual property owner’s rights are protected.

Notice of Acquisition
The first step in condemning a property is the providing notice of acquisition. Missouri law requires that the property owner should receive this notice from the government agency responsible for condemning a property at least 60 days prior to the actual filing of the condemnation petition in the court. In this notice, the condemning authority must provide the owner with details of why the property is being condemned and what the owner’s rights are in the eyes of law.

If you have received a notice of acquisition stating that the government plans to condemn a property you own, it is in your best interests to contact a competent attorney as soon as possible. An eminent domain attorney can review your case and begin working on your behalf from the outset to ensure you receive the most favorable outcome.

Formal Written Purchase Offer
After the notice of acquisition is presented, the condemning authority (government agency or entity) must give the property owner a formal written purchase offer for the property. This offer must reach the property owner at least 30 days before the government can file its court case to take the property through eminent domain. Along with a written offer, the condemning authority must enclose documentation to show how the purchase price was determined. This might include an appraisal report or other market data supporting the purchase price offer made by the government in advance of condemnation.

Acceptance or Rejection of the Government’s Price
Once you receive the formal purchase offer, it is up to you, the property owner, to decide whether or not you want to accept what the government wants to pay you for your property.  If you accept the government’s price, the transaction will proceed along the lines of a regular real estate sale, and there will be no need for the government to exercise its power of eminent domain through the condemnation process.

If you feel the government is offering an unfairly low price along with its threat to take your property through eminent domain, you can reject the offer.  While the government rarely tells you this, you have the right to make no reply whatsoever.  Your failure to accept the government’s offer will be deemed a rejection.  Sometimes, negotiations follow a rejection of the government’s purchase offer and lead to a successful resolution without the need for condemnation proceedings.  Often, the property owner and the government are just too far apart on the amount of just compensation due, and the matter must proceed into court through the condemnation process.

Filing of the Condemnation Petition
When negotiations regarding just compensation fail, the government files a condemnation petition to exercise its power of eminent domain through the court system in order to take your private property.  You, the owner, will be issued a court summons giving you notice of legal action.

The Hearing on the Condemnation Petition
Under Missouri procedure, the condemnation case will be assigned to a judge, who will conduct a hearing on the condemnation petition.  This is the owner’s opportunity to argue that the taking is not legitimate – for example that the condemning authority negotiated in bad faith, that the purpose of the taking is private, rather than public, or that the owner’s property is not necessary for the project.  In most cases the judge will allow the condemnation to proceed, and will appoint three residents of the county to act as condemnation commissioners.

The Condemnation Commissioners’ Hearing
The condemnation commissioners appointed by the judge will meet, view the property, and hear the arguments of each side on the issue of just compensation for the taking of the property through eminent domain.  It is critical that the owner be prepared to make a good presentation at the commissioners’ hearing.  An experienced eminent domain attorney can be an invaluable asset at this state in the proceedings, to ensure that the commissioners understand the law as it applies to this particular taking and to present the most solid case for the highest amount of just compensation due under the law.

The commissioners file their report with the court, setting forth their assessment of damages, or just compensation, due the property owner for the taking of the property through eminent domain.  Once the government pays that amount into court, title to the property transfers to the government and it may proceed to use the property for its project.

Right to a Trial by Jury
Either the government or the property owner may disagree with the report of the commissioners and may request a trial by jury.  Ultimately, it is a jury of the owner’s peers that makes the final determination on what is just compensation.  This is another critical right provided to the property owner by the Constitution.  An experienced eminent domain trial attorney is critical to ensure the best results.  Our attorneys have tried many, many condemnation cases to verdict in jury trials.

Call The Wallach Law Firm for Experienced Legal Help in Condemnation Cases in Missouri

The process of contesting condemnation and/or seeking better compensation is a very complex one involving many legal issues. Therefore, the services of eminent domain lawyers can be crucial. At The Wallach Law Firm in St. Louis, our attorneys can help you present your case in the most persuasive way to enhance your chances of success with the legal process of condemnation. Call us now at 314-997-4050 to learn more about how you can protect your rights in condemnation cases.

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