Occasionally in California and other states across the country, officials undertake large scale construction and public works projects that require the acquisition of private land. For instance, a road may need to be widened or public utilities placed underground.

In these circumstances, states can obtain the private land that they need through the process of eminent domain – which is the power of government to take private land for a public purpose as long as just compensation is provided. In California, eminent domain happens on occasion and all property owners should be aware of their rights during this process.

Instituting an Eminent Domain Action

Under California law, before property can be obtained through eminent domain, the governmental agency seeking to obtain the property must first adopt a public resolution of necessity indicating that it needs the land for some public purpose. This resolution of necessity must be passed at a public hearing and can only be adopted if the government can show:

  • The project for which the government seeks the land is a necessary project

  • The property at issue is necessary for the project

  • The project location offers the most public benefit with the least private impact

  • An offer to purchase the property has been made

As part of the above four steps, the governmental agency is required to conduct an appraisal of the property that it would like to obtain, and make an offer to the property owner consistent with that appraisal. An agency may not offer the property owner substantially less than the property is worth. If the property owner refuses, the agency may institute an eminent domain action in court.

Obtaining Property Through Court Action

Assuming the governmental agency has obtained the necessary resolution of necessity, a court proceeding over eminent domain is rarely about the acquisition of the land itself. Governmental agencies have the power to obtain the land that they need from private individuals as long as they pay just compensation for such land. Thus, most litigation centers on what is just compensation.

In litigation, a private landowner may argue that the government has refused to pay the actual value of the property sought, or is trying to undercut the owner. In court, a judge will typically retain independent appraisers to consider the property at issue and make a determination of the fair market value of the property.

Fair market value is defined as the highest market value that a seller would be willing to sell at when under no particular urgency to sell, and which a buyer would be willing to pay when under no particular urgency to purchase. Based on the fair market value determined by the appraisers, the court will try to reach a settlement between the government and the private landowner.

If a settlement cannot be achieved, a jury will be tasked with determining the amount of compensation that the property owner is entitled to. The government will then be required to pay the jury’s final judgment amount within thirty days of the judgment being rendered. After the judgment is paid, transfer of title in the property can be given to the governmental agency.

California Attorneys Ensuring Just Compensation For Your Property

While California private property owners do not always have the right or ability to avoid an eminent domain acquisition of their property, they can request that full and just compensation be paid. If you feel that the government is trying to buy you out for less than your property is worth, the real estate attorneys at CKB Vienna LLP may be available to help. For more information, contact us online or at 909-980-1040.

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