Eminent domain is the government’s right to seize private property for public use in exchange for compensating the property owner. This process is also known as “condemnation.” Property owners aren’t always able to stop the government from seizing their land, but they do have the right to challenge an eminent domain claim and to demand just compensation for their seized land.
In both cases, an experienced Florida eminent domain attorney can help. If the government has contacted you with intentions to seize your property, you will need to act quickly to assert your rights. Morgan & Morgan Business Trial Group attorneys are experienced at assisting individuals and businesses in eminent domain and condemnation lawsuits throughout Florida.
Our eminent domain attorneys strictly work on a contingency-fee basis, which means you pay us no hourly fees, and we only receive a fee if we win your lawsuit. Fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form to learn how our attorneys can help.
Defining Eminent Domain
Eminent domain involves “condemning authorities” taking private property for “public use.” A condemning authority may include:
- Federal or state government
- Governmental agencies (such as the Department of Transportation)
- Public utility companies
“Public use” pertains to private land taken for projects that benefit the general public, such as:
- Public roads, highways, and other infrastructure
- Public schools
- Conservation land
Eminent domain may also apply to private companies providing public works, including dams, railroads, pipelines, electricity, gas, and other utilities.
Florida’s Eminent Domain Law
State laws on eminent domain vary widely throughout the country. In Florida, a condemning authority is only allowed to use their power of eminent domain, if the following conditions are met:
- The condemning authority plans to use your taken property or land for public good.
- The condemning authority fully compensates you for the property taken.
Unfortunately, the second condition often creates a problem for property owners. The government may try to offer compensation below fair market value, placing pressure on property owners to accept compensation that is less than what they deserve.
Not only is this unfair — it’s illegal. The compensation you receive for your condemned property should be determined by the “highest and best use” of the property, not the government or utility company’s desired offer.
Simply put, this means you should be paid the highest value for your property based on how the land is expected to be used and improved by the government, within the constraints of its location, legal permissibility, and other factors.
Our Florida eminent domain lawyers will work with experts to calculate the fair market value for your seized property and ensure that you’re justly compensated.
The Eminent Domain Lawsuit Process
If you have been contacted by a condemning authority in Florida about seizing your property, you can expect the following process to take place:
- Notice and Offer: Before filing an eminent domain lawsuit, the government authority or utility company must contact you with their intent to seize your land and give their offer for a settlement. The owner has 30 days to respond to this offer before the condemning authority can file a lawsuit. In the case of a condemned business, the business owner has 180 days to respond and request special business damages.
- Eminent Domain Lawsuit: If you do not respond within 30 days, or if you reject their written offer, the condemning authority will respond with an eminent domain lawsuit to seize your land. This involves an “order of taking,” which requires a judge to decide whether the government authority or utility company has the right to take your property by eminent domain. More often than not, the condemning authority will receive the title to your property.
- Mediation: At this stage, you and your attorney can begin negotiating for a fair settlement. You have the option of using a neutral mediator to come to a fair settlement agreement. You do not, however, have to accept a settlement.
- Trial: If you are not satisfied with what you are being offered during negotiations, you have the option of a jury trial. Our eminent domain and condemnation attorneys have extensive courtroom experience and will fight for the full compensation you are entitled to under Florida law.
The process of an eminent domain case is complex and arduous. That’s why it’s best to contact a Florida eminent domain attorney from the very start to ensure your best interests are being represented every step of the way.
Businesses and Eminent Domain
Businesses can also be impacted by eminent domain. Along with the inconvenience of having their property seized, Florida business owners must also contend with loss of productivity, moving expenses, costs for constructing a replacement business facility, and more.
This down-time can be potentially crushing for a business. Fortunately, the state of Florida recognizes the struggle business owners may face when their property is seized. In certain circumstances, business owners can receive additional damages on top of compensation for their land taken to help mitigate the financial difficulties eminent domain poses.
According to Florida law, in order to qualify for business damages during eminent domain, the following conditions must be met:
- The condemning authority must be a public body, not a public utility company.
- The taking must be for right of way condemnation (i.e., to create room for a road or bridge).
- The business in question must be established for at least five years.
- Only a portion of the business’ property is being taken.
Business owners have a very limited window of time to begin the business damages claim process, as condemning authorities are not obligated by law to make the business owner an initial offer for business damages.
You have 180 days from the time you receive the government’s written notice of an eminent domain lawsuit to make an initial offer for business damages, so do not hesitate to contact an experienced Florida business eminent attorney.
Property owners who have had their land seized by the government without declaration and full compensation have legal recourse through what is known as an inverse condemnation lawsuit.
Compared to an eminent domain lawsuit, which is filed by a government or condemning authority in order to take private property, inverse condemnation involves a property owner suing the condemning authority for just compensation after an undeclared “taking.” The government’s taking need not be the physical seizure of land.
It can also be a regulatory taking or the imposition of regulations that thwart a business’ income potential. Inverse condemnation is a corrective course of action when the government or condemning authority fails to follow eminent domain procedure. Under Florida law, the statute of limitation for an inverse condemnation lawsuit is four years.
How Much Does an Eminent Domain Attorney Cost?
The Morgan & Morgan Business Trial Group believes that all people should have access to quality legal representation, regardless of income. That’s why our Florida eminent domain lawyers work on a contingency-fee basis.
This means that if you do not win, you owe us nothing. In addition, under Florida law, the government or other condemning authority in many cases pays the property owner’s attorney fees and costs in an eminent domain lawsuit.
Get Every Dollar You Deserve For Your Property
It’s easy to feel powerless when the government contacts you with its intentions to seize your property, but the state is not all-powerful, and knowing your rights can mean the difference between maintaining your property or losing it without receiving full market value.
A knowledgeable Florida eminent domain attorney can fight to overturn the seizure. If the seizure is granted, we can assist in obtaining full compensation for your condemned property. If you have been contacted by the government about an eminent domain action, the attorneys at the Morgan & Morgan Business Trial Group can help.
With 20 offices throughout Florida, we can conveniently handle eminent domain lawsuits in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and everywhere in between. To get started, fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.