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Irvine Eminent Domain Legal Blog

Facing eminent domain actions? 3 ways an attorney can help

The prospect of losing your home or property to the government through eminent domain actions can be quite upsetting and stressful. 

As frustrating as this position can be as a property owner, it can be even more so for people trying to address eminent domain actions on their own. Rather than do this, it can be wise to consult an attorney sooner, rather than later. Doing so can prove to be quite valuable in a few ways we examine below.

Scenarios that could lead to an inverse condemnation claim

Whether you own land, a home or a business, you have likely put a great deal of time, money and other resources into buying and maintaining it. As such, property owners across California take their ownership rights and protections very seriously. 

For instance, if the government takes or damages to your private property through direct condemnation (eminent domain), you have the right to receive just compensation. If the government damages your property without initiating formal condemnation proceedings, you may have grounds to pursue an inverse condemnation claim.  

Understanding easements: accessing land without taking it

Many posts on this blog discuss situations in which home and business owners lose their property to eminent domain claims from the government or a private entity. However, there are also situations in which the government can access or use private property without actually acquiring it.

This is an easement. An easement grants a party the right to use land owned by another person for specific reasons. For instance, the government might seek an easement to dig and bury pipelines, construct sidewalks or build a library. Parties that obtain an easement do not own the land, but they can access it for their purposes.

Proposed expansion of the 710 freeway

Traffic is one of the biggest headaches people in southern California deal with on a daily basis. Sitting in the car for hours can make any person think, "Why can't they just fix this congestion problem?" 

Unfortunately, the answer is rarely easy, especially when doing so would displace hundreds of residents who would lose their homes through eminent domain. The 710 extension has been a long studied proposed project in Pasadena. Currently, the 710 north ends at Valley View in Monterey Park.  The proposed connection would complete the freeway up to California Blvd in Pasadena.  There hasbeen years of history with this project, including several very different alternatives.

California wildfires: what is the cause?

In previous posts, we discussed the impact that wildfires and resulting rains and mudslides have had on homeowners and property owners across California; particularly in the Montecito area near Santa Barbara. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been destroyed, and people have lost their lives and their homes.

As a result, lawsuits and claims have started trickling into court against utility companies who had utility poles in the area. Several allegations against the utility companies include improper maintenance of electric wires and improper handling and service of those wires (Negligence).  

What is 'public use'?

When government takes property through eminent domain, it does so because it needs the land for a public use or project. Public use is not always as clear as the word suggests, and there are cases when the intended use does not seem to others to be "public."

In situations where a landowner challenges whether the government's taking of the property is for public use, there can be a hearing where a judge will make a determination. In this post, we will look at what "public" use is and what happens at a hearing that challenges eminent domain based on lack of public use.  These challenges are known as "right to take" challenges, which allege that the government has not met its burden of proving that the proposed use is public.  Other right to take challenges can include whether the property sought to be acquired is necessary for the proposed project or public use, and whether the project as proposed is planned in a manner that causes the least possible private injury.

A look at just compensation

The U.S. and California Constitutions protect landowners when their property is  taken by requiring payment of just compensation. However, "just" in the eyes of property owners is often hard to define. Property can be held by generations of families over many years, and businesses can be in similar situations.  Requiring a business to relocate and taking property can evoke strong feelings from landowners, even though the government has the right to do so.  Eminent domain disputes may be contentious and landowners sometimes look at other factors, such as the value to them as opposed to the fair market value. 

Special value to an owner is not compensable under Eminent Domain law.  While it may never feel "fair" or "just" for forced acquisition of private property and relocation of a business, the procedures and laws specific to Eminent Domain in California provide landowners and business owners the armor and ammo needed to assert claims for greater compensation beyond what is offered to them initially.

The Aftermath of Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain, which is a forced sale of private property to the government for a public project, is challenging before, during and after proceedings have concluded.  

The government obtains a final order of condemnation, which it records in the county in which the property was located.  Title officially transfers to the government upon recording, and the government's interest in the property is placed at the top of the chain of title.  The government, which has likely already taken possession of the property, owns the property outright, and may use it for the public use the government condemned the property to serve.

From the owner side, property owners are entitled to certain special tax benefits from the involuntary conversion, including treatment under Internal Revenue Code section 1033.  Property owners are entitled to transfer the tax basis from the condemned property to new property purchased which the condemnation proceeds.  Peterson Law Group does not give tax advice, and property owners in eminent domain proceedings are encouraged to seek the advice of their tax advisors.

City fire investigators link wildfires to power lines

Readers of this blog and residents all across California are likely keeping an eye on developments regarding the North Bay wildfires that devastated lives and homes in the area last year. While there has yet to be a firm determination on the cause of these fires, ongoing investigations continue to reveal updated information.

Most recently, media reports and public record indicate that city fire investigators from Santa Rosa have determined that PG&E power lines may have caused at least two smaller fires in the area. 

Eminent domain action threatens my home. What should I do?

Homeownership in California can be a tough dream to make real. Median prices in Silicon Valley are in the seven digits, according to Zillow. In Los Angeles, the median price is estimated at nearly $600,000. If you own a home, you want to make the most of it.

If you are faced with the threat of eminent domain, you need to know what your options are for maintaining possession. If that isn't possible, you need to be confident that you are compensated based on all relevant factors, not just what the government entity seeking your property decides.

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