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.

  1. There are no comparative properties in the area. To determine fair market value of a residential property, for instance, you should look at sales for comparable homes. However, if there are no homes in the area that have recently sold, or if your home has distinct features other properties do not have, it can be difficult to assign value to the property. The government will likely make as low of an offer as they can, which could be unfairly low.
  2. An unqualified party made the assessment. Assessing the value of a property is not something everyone can do properly. As such, it is crucial for both the takers and the property owners to work with experts in real estate valuation.
  3. The property owner does not have representation. Between government entities and individuals, the government typically has an advantage when it comes to land negotiations due to substantial resources and better familiarity with the law. As such, property owners who do not have legal representation during these transactions may not know their rights or have the skills to negotiate compensation.

Eminent domain cases are often upsetting and contentious, and it can be very difficult to come to an agreement that is "just" for all parties. Knowing that there are factors that can adversely affect an offer can help owners understand the stakes and take seriously their right to have legal representation.

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