The condemnation process can be stressful and confusing because many property owners, and even knowledgeable real estate lawyers, are unfamiliar with the condemnation process, property owner’s rights or how the government values property. You need a lawyer who knows not only the law, but also the process to help secure for you the money you deserve. Condemnation is not just part of our practice — it is our focus. In fact, our firm handles many cases other attorneys try to settle or refuse to take on, and we have an excellent track record in securing substantial increases for our clients.
Outside of the courtroom the government enjoys a strong negotiating position and often times is inflexible in its position. The courtroom, however, provides a level playing field when it comes to condemnation, because the law places the government and the property owner on equal footing in arguing compensation or the legality of the government’s actions. The courtroom allows the owner to make their strongest argument regarding compensation. The judge often can also provide invaluable assistance in determining a fair price for your property. An owner needs an experienced lawyer to advance and frame the necessary arguments to the court or jury that will allow and require the government to pay you the compensation you deserve.
At Prime Law Group we have the experience needed to negotiate and obtain the just compensation you deserve. An experienced condemnation attorney can help you negotiate with the authorities outside of the courtroom, as well as aggressively fight for you in court.
Preparations For Condemnation Proceedings
During the pre-condemnation process, we believe it is important to prepare for the government’s taking of your property. The government often times has been working for years with various professionals, including engineers, surveyors, appraisers and land planners before they even contact you. Therefore, it is critical that you begin your preparation as soon as possible. You should know that the government cannot acquire your property without either your agreement or a court order. Further, the government can only obtain a court order by initiating formal legal proceedings. It must give you notice of this prior to taking such action.
If the government elects to initiate legal condemnation proceedings, it must file a complaint with the court and serve the property owner. The value of your property is then usually determined based on the date the complaint is filed, and the government becomes committed to its project and its stated purpose for your property. The government cannot penalize you for not agreeing to sell your land or for requiring it to obtain a court order authorizing the acquisition of your land. After filing, the government also cannot change its taking to add or take different land; doing so can constitute abandonment of the complaint, requiring that the government repay an owner’s litigation costs, fees and expenses.
After the government files its complaint, it is normally at this point that we would arrange for you to have your property appraised by a highly qualified appraiser knowledgeable about condemnation. In certain limited situations it might also be important to evaluate the necessity and benefit of retaining other real estate professionals, such as a civil engineer or land planner, to help evaluate your property and any negative impact that the government’s project causes to the remainder of your land not taken.
Knowledgeable Expert Witnesses
Whether the issues involve something as basic as a well or septic system, or as complex as wetland mitigation and storm water management, Prime Law Group can assist in identifying the engineer, specialist or land planner who can provide insight, prepare any necessary reports to demonstrate the negative impact of the government’s project, and develop plans and cost estimates to solve the problems created by the government. Oftentimes we are able to successfully argue that the government should pay for the costs to correct your property. The evidence from these professionals is used to negotiate the compensation you are entitled to for your property taken and for the damage to your property not taken.
Experienced Condemnation Proceedings Representation
The purpose of the litigation process is to allow both sides to present their evidence regarding the compensation due the owner, and an owner has a constitutional right to have a jury decide the compensation they are due. In the court process, Prime Law Group, handles all the court appearances, hearings, and discovery, and you will likely only be required to go to court for a valuation hearing or if the matter goes to trial.
Typically, the first decision for an owner is whether they want to challenge the legality of the government’s use of eminent domain, which is traditionally done in the courtroom. In many instances the owner will elect not to challenge the government’s authority, and instead look to contest the amount of compensation offered by the government. The parties may start this process by exchanging appraisals, which creates an opportunity for the parties to negotiate, whether outside the courtroom or through a settlement conference with a judge.
An owner should know that just because the government has initiated legal proceedings does not mean that the parties cannot settle or that a jury trial must occur. In fact, the vast majority of cases in court end up settling. If the parties cannot settle, then the parties will engage in discovery and proceed to a trial where the amount of just compensation will be decided by a jury.
"Quick Take" Hearing
During the beginning of the court condemnation process, many property owners will encounter a “quick take” hearing. A quick take hearing is an expedited evidentiary hearing, which is only available for certain government entities, such as the state of Illinois. These hearings are scheduled as soon as the assigned judge’s schedule allows, which may be as soon as a couple weeks after the complaint is filed. In this situation, since the government will be presenting evidence and experts at the quick take hearing to persuade the court its offer is fair, it is critical to have experienced counsel assisting you during precondemnation and in gathering important evidence to establish the amount of money you deserve. You will need to have your theory and evidence assembled for the quick take hearing, or you risk compromising your case.