• Eminent Domain is the right of the government to acquire private property for public purposes upon payment of just compensation. Condemnation is the actual process that will occur to acquire that private property.
• The US and State Constitutions, and Federal and State laws protect the rights of property owners and lay out the procedures that must be followed when property is taken by the government.
• States, including Maryland, have also delegated authority to condemn down to local governments and municipalities and to quasi-governmental agencies as well.
Steps in the Condemnation Process
• The earliest steps in the process begin with the determination by a governmental authority that it will be necessary to acquire private property to fill an identified public need. That need could be a road construction project, a utility (sewer, water, electric, telephone) project and other projects to promote public health, safety and welfare.
• Sometimes the government takes only a portion of your property. For example, this may be a strip of land needed for a drainage channel, a utility line, or a street widening. Various types of easements may also be acquired separately, or with the land.
• The condemning authority will give written notice that it intends to acquire all or part of a property. They will appraise the property to determine its value and estimate the just compensation owed the property owner.
• A written offer – including a summary of the land and rights to be acquired – will be made to the property owner. Agency representatives will then enter into negotiations with property owners in an effort to come to an agreement on the amount of compensation owed.
• If negotiations are not successful the condemning authority takes steps to acquire possession of the property through the courts.
• One method [in Maryland] is referred to as the “quick take” method where the agency deposits its offer of just compensation with the courts and is given physical possession of the property. This is usually done to prevent any delay in a project while negotiations take place.
• Property owners are entitled to withdraw these funds (without prejudice), have a local panel review both the government and property owner appraisals and make a determination of the just compensation due the property owner. At any time during this process the government and property may reach an agreement and avoid further litigation. If no agreement is reached through this process a decision may be obtained through the courts.
• In most cases a deed is prepared transferring the land and/or rights acquired through eminent domain from the property owner to the condemning authority.
The deed is then recorded in the land records office of the county where the property is located.
• Sometimes the government may request a donation of the needed property in order to build a project. If a property owner chooses to donate rather than accept compensation professionals (such as appraisers, accountants and attorneys) should be consulted to determine the extent of any tax benefits that may result from the donation.
• In some instances, a property owner is displaced and is entitled to relocation compensation in addition to the value of the property. Federal and State laws provide for additional payments for moving costs, replacement housing and certain reestablishment expenses.
The words government, agency, and condemning authority are used interchangeably in this document to indicate the entity with the authority to exercise eminent domain and pursue condemnation proceedings.