Public infrastructure projects are on the rise, from new transit systems to comprehensive highway renovations and everything in between. Behind the scenes, some governmental body is fast at work acquiring private land along the project route by power of eminent domain. This harsh reality is endlessly vexing to anyone who stands to lose land to a governmental agenda. The silver lining, however, is the constitutional protection fixed by the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment: “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The definition of just compensation greatly depends on the facts of each acquisition. Consider three common land acquisitions via condemnation:
- landscaping separating a private parking facility from a public highway;
- a portion of a vibrant shopping center adjacent to that same highway; and
- the shopping center as a whole.
None of these takings is like the other, yet the million dollar question for each is the same: what compensation is due for the loss? The answer to this question, and to all questions critical to resolving any condemnation case, is rooted in fairness.
The Maryland condemnation process typically follows the same path regardless of the property type at issue. The condemnor submits a written offer to purchase land at a price it considers fair. Accompanying the offer is an appraisal issued by an expert handpicked by the government. The offer also comes with an unspoken threat of litigation should the parties not agree on value.
The format seeks to expedite resolution. In theory, the condemnor has laid its cards on the table, offering market value for the land it is acquiring, and the owner of that land need do little more than accept the offer. But in truth, the offer likely represents a pittance of what the Constitution requires. It’s equally likely that the condemnor has not considered all ramifications of the taking, including any permanent modification to use of the land, the rights of tenants, mortgagees or other parties with an interest in the land, and myriad other subsurface issues that require attention. This is precisely why the first offer one receives from a governmental body seeking to acquire land presents the first opportunity to protect ones constitutional rights.
How do you protect your rights? It’s simple; say no to that first offer.
To be clear, rejecting the first offer does not mean that the condemnor will not acquire your land. With limited exceptions, as long as the acquisition is supported by a legitimate public purpose, challenging the right to condemn will prove futile. Rejecting the first offer also does not guarantee that you will receive more money for your land. It does, however, preserve your constitutional right to present a case and secure the equitable treatment and just compensation you deserve. All you need to do is, first, stand your ground and, second, seek advice from an experienced attorney. We can help.
For assistance with eminent domain, inverse condemnation and regulatory takings matters, please call Harris W. Eisenstein – 410-727-6600 or HEisenstein@rosenbergmartin.com