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January 21st, 2016 — By — In Articles

The Government’s Offer Isn’t Always “Just” Compensation

In order to exercise the power of eminent domain, government agencies are required – by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – to pay just compensation to the affected property owners. We discussed the Constitutional “just compensation” requirement in a previous post, which also highlighted some state laws that provide for additional compensation to individuals and businesses when private property is condemned by the government.

Since the law requires the payment of just compensation, one would expect the government to pay it without putting up a fight.  Unfortunately, experience has shown that government agencies across the country routinely make unreasonably low offers in an effort to acquire private property for public projects. Gideon Kanner, an Honorary Member of Owners’ Counsel of America, keeps tabs on these offers in his “Lowball Watch,” which covered seven such cases in 2015. These cases included eminent domain proceedings from North Carolina to California, with disparities between the government’s initial offer and the final compensation award reaching upwards of $3 million.

California Jury Awards $3.2 Million After $1.8 Million Compensation Offer

One of the most recent cases involving a lowball condemnor offer was reported in November 2015. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) seized 34 acres from 94-year-old ranch owner, Lorraine Silveira, as part of a highway expansion project in the northern San Francisco Bay Area.  Caltrans offered Ms. Silveira roughly $1.8 million as “just compensation” for the taking of her property by eminent domain. It had valued the condemned property at just $575,000.

Ms. Silveira’s attorneys sought $6 million in compensation, and when Caltrans refused to pay, the Marin Independent Journal reports that extensive litigation ensued. The owner’s attorneys attacked the state appraiser’s “absurdly low valuation,” and presented evidence during the 20-day trial that the taking would damage the value of the remaining property and limit its future use as a winery. The jury returned a verdict awarding Ms. Silveira $3.2 million in compensation – $1.7 million for the property taken plus $1.5 million for damages to the remainder resulting from the highway expansion project.

The property owner is currently seeking to recover her attorneys’ fees from Caltrans.

Have You Received an Unreasonable Offer of “Just Compensation”?

Government agencies typically commence eminent domain proceedings by providing a condemnation notice or initial offer to the property owner. Condemnors must then follow certain procedures, which vary from state to state but often include conducting an appraisal and offering payment of just compensation. Unfortunately, many property owners accept the government’s offer or attempt to negotiate better compensation or better terms on their own behalf.

As this case and numerous cases before it has demonstrated, property owners need to be vigilant about protecting their property rights. If you have received an offer that you believe is unreasonably low, you have the opportunity – and the right – to make sure you are justly compensated. To learn more about protecting your constitutional right to just compensation, you can contact a local attorney with Owners’ Counsel of America for a free consultation.

Speak with an Eminent Domain Attorney with Owners’ Counsel of America

Owners’ Counsel of America is a network of the leading eminent domain attorneys nationwide. If you have received a condemnation notice from a local, state or federal government authority, we invite you to contact us for more information about your legal rights.