Home | Pennsylvania Eminent Domain

Pennysvania's Eminent Domain Laws and Property Rights

Property Rights in the State of Pennysvania

Pennsylvania provides the owners of land the right to use that land for all legal uses. The rights extend from the center of the earth to the “heavens above.” The owners also have the right to exclude others from the land. Eminent domain law empowers a governmental body to take, injure or destroy private property for a public purpose. Land is most commonly taken for purposes such as transportation, electrical service or natural gas transmission. This awesome power of eminent domain law is constrained by various specific requirements for proper condemnation of property. Municipal entities are required to follow specific, technical procedures to properly condemn the constitutionally protected property rights in properly serving public purposes. Just compensation is a very subjective assessment of damages to be paid to the condemnees. Property owners are cautioned about accepting a condemnor’s subjective appraisal of property values. An attorney experienced in this specialized area of law may service property owners by stopping or redirecting condemnation. If not, recovery for condemnees may include: just compensation, business relocation damages, moving expenses, engineering fees, appraisal fees and attorney fees.

Meet OCA's Pennsylvania Attorney

Michael F. Faherty

Michael F. Faherty

Attorney Michael F. Faherty is the President and Managing Attorney at Pennsylvania’s largest law firm devoted to representing property owners threatened by eminent domain. The Hershey location in central Pennsylvania allows Faherty, Attorney Tara B. Horvath, and Attorney Anthony M. Corby to protect property owners all across Pennsylvania. The law firm is unusual in the extreme emphasis on eminent domain rights of landowners. The firm does not provide representation to condemnors.

A Summary of Pennsylvania's Eminent Domain Laws

The following responses are intended to provide general information about eminent domain laws in the featured state. Such information does not constitute legal advice. Anyone interested in learning more about eminent domain law and the impact it may have on a given set of facts should consult with an OCA attorney or another attorney experienced in handling eminent domain cases.

  • Who Can Exercise Eminent Domain Powers?

    The power to use eminent domain is an inherent right of the sovereign, i.e. the Federal or State Government. The power is limited only by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, The Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code, and enabling statutes (i.e. statutes which confer the power describing the occasions, modes, and the agencies for its exercise). An entity may not use eminent domain unless granted the power by the Legislature. Examples of entities which have been granted eminent domain authority include State Agencies like PennDOT, utility companies like electric and gas companies, school districts, and local municipalities.

  • What are the Legal Requirements for Exercising the Power?

    Although there are exceptions, generally, a condemnor must do the following:

    1. The condemnor must have the authority to use eminent domain granted to it by the legislature.
    2. The condemnor must conform its exercise of power to the occasions, modes, and agencies as specified in the enabling statute.
    3. May only condemn, or take, for public use (with some exceptions).
    4. The decision to condemn and/or the extent of the taking may not be the result of fraud, bad faith, an abuse of discretion, was arbitrary, or capricious.
    5. The condemnor must file a declaration of taking in the Court of Common Pleas for the location in which the property is located and record notice of the taking with the county recorder of deeds.
    6. The condemnor must serve the condemnee with a Notice of Condemnation which, among other things, notifies the condemnee of their right to file Preliminary Objections within 30 days.
    7. The condemnor must post a bond or other sufficient security with the court. 8. The condemnor must pay estimated just compensation before taking possession of the condemned property. Note that a condemnee is entitled to receive estimated just compensation without prejudicing his/her right to seek full and final just compensation from the courts.

  • What Limitations or Defenses Exist?

    The exclusive remedy for challenging a condemnation is by the filing of Preliminary Objections to the declaration of taking. A property owner has 30 days to file Preliminary Objections. Objections cannot be raised at other stages of the condemnation proceedings.

    Furthermore, preliminary objections are limited to the following: (1) the power or right of the condemnor to appropriate the property unless it has been previously adjudicated; (2) the sufficiency of the security; (3) the declaration of taking; (4) any other procedure followed by the condemnor.

    The primary objection usually relates to the condemnor's “power or right” to condemn and it may take several forms. Here are the most common:

    Enabling Statutes: This objection focuses upon the condemning authority's grant of power from the legislature through appropriate enabling statutes. This type of defense typically alleges that the condemnor failed to comply with the enabling statute's requirements. These requirements dictate the occasions, modes, and agencies by which the condemnor may exercise its eminent domain authority.

    Public Purpose: This objection alleges that the condemnation is not “for public use" as required by the state and federal constitutions. Pa. Const. art. I $ 10; U.S. Const. Amendment V.
    Due Process: this objection alleges that the decision to condemn and/or that the extent of the taking is the result of fraud, bad faith, an abuse of discretion, was arbitrary, or capricious.

  • What Constitutes a Public Purpose?

    Typical public purposes include road projects, installation of electric transmission lines, schools, parks, public buildings, etc.

    After the United States Supreme Court sanctioned the broad use of eminent domain for uses which primarily benefited private enterprise, the Pennsylvania legislature passed The Property Rights Protection Act which prohibits "the exercise by any condemnor of the power of eminent domain to take private property in order to use it for private enterprise." 26 Pa. C.S.A. $ 204. However, the Pennsylvania legislature created exceptions for non-profits, public utilities, railroads, common carriers, blight, urban redevelopment, low-income development projects, etc.

  • How is the Just Compensation Determined?

    Just compensation is determined by a Board of Viewers appointed by the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the property is located. The Board of Viewers is comprised of three community members, one of which must be an attorney. Either party may appeal a Board decision to the trial court. Just Compensation is the difference between the fair market value of the condemnee's entire property interest immediately before the condemnation and as unaffected by the condemnation and the fair market value of the property interest remaining immediately after the condemnation and as affected by the condemnation. This is sometimes referred to as the “before and after” rule. Property owners are cautioned that many condemnors intentionally appraise different property rights in an effort to not pay just compensation. Just Compensation typically requires the testimony of an expert appraiser who has experience drafting eminent domain appraisals. It is highly advisable that a property owner consult with an experienced eminent domain attorney before hiring an appraiser so that the attorney can ensure that the property rights are adequately protected. Note that the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code provides a condemnee property owner with a $4,000 reimbursement to use towards the hiring of an appraiser.

  • How is Fair Market Value Defined?

    Fair market value is the price which would be agreed to by a willing and informed seller and buyer, taking into consideration, but not limited to, the following factors:

    1. The present use of the property.
    2. The highest and best reasonably available use of the property and its value for that use.
    3. The machinery, equipment and fixtures forming part of the real estate taken.
    4. Other facts as to which evidence may be offered as provided by Chapter 11 (relating to evidence).
    26 Pa. C.S.A. $ 703. “Willing” seller and buyer means that neither is under abnormal pressure or compulsion, and both have a reasonable time within which to act. “Informed” buyer and seller means that both are in possession of all the facts necessary to make an intelligent judgment.

  • What About Recovering Damages to Remaining Property?

    A partial taking occurs when your entire parcel of land is not taken but instead the condemning authority takes only part of it, leaving some land remaining. In this scenario, the before and after rule still applies, i.e. just compensation is the difference between the value of the property before and after the taking. This principal is codified in the Code which states “[i]n determining the fair market value of the remaining property after a partial taking, consideration shall be given to the use which the property condemned is to be put and the damages or benefits specially affecting the remaining property due to its proximity to the improvements for which the property was taken." 26 Pa. C.S.A. $ 706(a). Property owners should be wary of offers for a “remnant” of the property.

  • Is the Landowner Entitled to Recover Reasonable Attorney Fees? Expert Fees? Litigation Costs?

    In addition to just compensation the Eminent Domain Code grants condemnees/displaced persons/displaced businesses additional compensation as follows:

    1. Expenses related to transfer of title such as recording fees, transfer taxes, penalty costs for prepayment of a mortgage, pro rata portion of real property taxes paid, pro rata portion of water and sewer charges paid.
    2. Professional fees incurred by a condemnee for appraisal, attorney and engineering fees up to $4,000.
    3. Increased financing costs caused by increased interest and other debt services costs incurred in connection with financing the acquisition of a replacement property.
    4. Pre-condemnation losses from reduction in rental income prior to the taking which the property owner proves was substantially due to the general knowledge of the imminence of condemnation, other than due to physical deterioration of the property within the reasonable control of the property owner.

    Under certain circumstances the $4,000 limit on professional fees does not apply. Instead the Eminent Domain Code provides that the condemnor must pay all reasonable and engineering fees and other costs and expenses actually incurred because of the defeat of condemnation filing. This may occur if a condemnee prevails on Preliminary Objections where the effect is to terminate the condemnation. Lastly, it may occur if the condemnor uses property without filing a declaration of taking. This is known as a "de facto” taking or "inverse condemnation."

  • Can the Government Take Possession of the Landowner's Property Before Final Compensation is Paid?

    Yes, when a condemnor takes your property they are required to pay you what is called "estimated just compensation” (“EJC”). EJC is paid without prejudice to the rights of either the condemnor or the condemnee to proceed to a final determination of the just compensation, and any payments made shall be considered only as payments pro tanto, or towards the total, of the just compensation as finally determined. Following the rendition of the verdict, the court will mold the verdict to deduct the EJC previously paid by the condemnor, i.e. the condemnor is given a credit. However, in no event shall the condemnee be compelled to pay back to the condemnor the EJC even if the amount of just compensation as finally determined is less than the compensation paid. Practically speaking, it is very rare for a verdict to be less than the EJC paid. The reality is that condemnors are defendants and therefore they have no incentive to voluntarily pay condemnees full and fair just compensation. Without the ability to access the courts through the help of an eminent domain attorney experienced in representing landowners, condemnees usually do not receive full and fair just compensation.

Pennsylvania

Faherty Law Firm
75 Cedar Avenue
Hershey, PA 17033
Tel: 717.256.3000
Fax: 717.256.3001
mfaherty@fahertylawfirm.com | www.fahertylawfirm.com

The zealous representation of over 1,000 property owners is the outgrowth of Mike’s initial law practice starting in 1989 for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Mike then worked full time in eminent domain law for PennDOT in Harrisburg. A year later, after decisive Board of View and jury victories, Mike was promoted to the lead eminent domain counsel for PennDOT. Further Board of View and jury victories followed, but Mike became disillusioned by aggressive condemnor tactics attempting to deny constitutional property owner rights.

In 1992, Mike left PennDOT and litigated in eastern Pennsylvania for a large regional law firm based in Philadelphia. In 1995, Mike returned to Harrisburg and litigated for another large regional firm based in Philadelphia. He became a shareholder of that firm and supervised attorneys in Harrisburg. He then became a senior partner in a Harrisburg firm in which he developed and directed an eminent domain practice for property owners.

In 2009, Mike was honored to be elected to serve as the first, and only, Pennsylvania Representative of the Owners’ Counsel of America. In 2016 Mike began service as a member of the Board of Directors of the Owners’ Counsel of America. In 2017 and 2018 he was elected to serve as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors. 

In 2019 and 2020, Mike was honored to be recognized as a leading Irish American attorney by Irish Legal 100. Mike has regularly challenged eminent domain abuse via writings, lectures, and litigation. In 2014, his preliminary objections led to the York County landmark eminent domain decision in Sunoco Pipeline v. Loper, No. 2013-SU-4518-05. Mike went on to represent Mariner East 2 property owners across all of Pennsylvania and obtained several millions of dollars of compensation for those property owners. Mike regularly negotiates and litigates property value issues. He has obtained multiple Board of View and jury verdicts exactly on the figure Mike presented in evidence. He has served as an expert witness on eminent domain in Pennsylvania. He has been honored as a “SUPER LAWYER” for eminent domain in Pennsylvania. Mike served as President of the Pennsylvania Defense Institute in 2004. He also served as the Pennsylvania delegate to the Defense Research Institute, a national association of leading attorneys.

Mike is the author of the leading text for Pennsylvania eminent domain attorneys, Eminent Domain Litigation, Lexis Nexis Practice Guide. He is also the author of the prominent blog, Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Law, for many years. The blog may be viewed via the Faherty Law Firm webpage at www.fahertylawfirm.com.

Faherty Law Firm handles cases in state courts throughout Pennsylvania and in each of the three Pennsylvania federal district courts. Representation has involved: industrial, commercial, farm, residential and preserved property. Representation has been provided to property owners threatened by: PennDOT, Pennsylvania Department of General Services, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, public utility companies, electric utilities, pipeline companies, oil and gas companies, counties, cities, townships, boroughs, sewer authorities, municipal authorities, school districts, hospitals, and airports. Some case results may be reviewed via the Faherty Law Firm webpage, www.fahertylawfirm.com

 Speaking Engagements

  • American Law Institute; National Business Institute; Lebanon Pipeline Awareness; and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau

Publications

  • American Law Institute; National Business Institute; Eminent Domain Litigation; Lexis Nexis Practice Guide:
    Pennsylvania Real Estate Litigation, 2017; and Contributing Author to the Pipeline Safety Trust publication Landowner’s Guide to Pipelines
  • Mike has also been the author of the prominent blog on Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Law for many years. The blog may be viewed via the Faherty Law Firm webpage at www.fahertylawfirm.com.

Education

  • Lebanon Valley College, B.A., cum laude
  • University of Akron, M.S. Psychology
  • Rutgers School of Law, J.D.

Honors and Awards

  • Member, National Honor Society, Psi Chi

Bar Admissions

  • U.S. District Court – Western District of Pennsylvania
  • U.S. District Court – Middle District of Pennsylvania
  • U.S. District Court – Eastern District of Pennsylvania
  • U.S. Court of Appeals – Third Circuit

The zealous representation of over 1,000 property owners is the outgrowth of Mike’s initial law practice starting in 1989 for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Mike then worked full time in eminent domain law for PennDOT in Harrisburg. A year later, after decisive Board of View and jury victories, Mike was promoted to the lead eminent domain counsel for PennDOT. Further Board of View and jury victories followed, but Mike became disillusioned by aggressive condemnor tactics attempting to deny constitutional property owner rights.

In 1992, Mike left PennDOT and litigated in eastern Pennsylvania for a large regional law firm based in Philadelphia. In 1995, Mike returned to Harrisburg and litigated for another large regional firm based in Philadelphia. He became a shareholder of that firm and supervised attorneys in Harrisburg. He then became a senior partner in a Harrisburg firm in which he developed and directed an eminent domain practice for property owners.

In 2009, Mike was honored to be elected to serve as the first, and only, Pennsylvania Representative of the Owners’ Counsel of America. In 2016 Mike began service as a member of the Board of Directors of the Owners’ Counsel of America. In 2017 and 2018 he was elected to serve as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors. 

In 2019 and 2020, Mike was honored to be recognized as a leading Irish American attorney by Irish Legal 100. Mike has regularly challenged eminent domain abuse via writings, lectures, and litigation. In 2014, his preliminary objections led to the York County landmark eminent domain decision in Sunoco Pipeline v. Loper, No. 2013-SU-4518-05. Mike went on to represent Mariner East 2 property owners across all of Pennsylvania and obtained several millions of dollars of compensation for those property owners. Mike regularly negotiates and litigates property value issues. He has obtained multiple Board of View and jury verdicts exactly on the figure Mike presented in evidence. He has served as an expert witness on eminent domain in Pennsylvania. He has been honored as a “SUPER LAWYER” for eminent domain in Pennsylvania. Mike served as President of the Pennsylvania Defense Institute in 2004. He also served as the Pennsylvania delegate to the Defense Research Institute, a national association of leading attorneys.

Mike is the author of the leading text for Pennsylvania eminent domain attorneys, Eminent Domain Litigation, Lexis Nexis Practice Guide. He is also the author of the prominent blog, Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Law, for many years. The blog may be viewed via the Faherty Law Firm webpage at www.fahertylawfirm.com.

Faherty Law Firm handles cases in state courts throughout Pennsylvania and in each of the three Pennsylvania federal district courts. Representation has involved: industrial, commercial, farm, residential and preserved property. Representation has been provided to property owners threatened by: PennDOT, Pennsylvania Department of General Services, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, public utility companies, electric utilities, pipeline companies, oil and gas companies, counties, cities, townships, boroughs, sewer authorities, municipal authorities, school districts, hospitals, and airports. Some case results may be reviewed via the Faherty Law Firm webpage, www.fahertylawfirm.com

 Speaking Engagements

  • American Law Institute; National Business Institute; Lebanon Pipeline Awareness; and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau

Publications

  • American Law Institute; National Business Institute; Eminent Domain Litigation; Lexis Nexis Practice Guide:
    Pennsylvania Real Estate Litigation, 2017; and Contributing Author to the Pipeline Safety Trust publication Landowner’s Guide to Pipelines
  • Mike has also been the author of the prominent blog on Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Law for many years. The blog may be viewed via the Faherty Law Firm webpage at www.fahertylawfirm.com.
close