In Maryland, eminent domain is the right of the government to acquire private property for public purposes by paying just compensation. Condemnation is the actual process of them obtaining the property. The two words are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing: government taking of private property.
The government cannot just decide they want a property and then take it. Federal and state laws protect the rights of property owners, as do the U.S. and Maryland constitutions. These laws and constitutions also outline procedures the government entity must follow to acquire property. Following is an overview:
- The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that the federal government cannot deprive individuals of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
- The Fourteenth Amendment forbids states from denying any person life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
Maryland’s constitution also includes safeguards:
- There is no taking of private property for public use without just compensation.
- The private property must be appraised and the fair market value determined.
- These matters may be submitted to a jury.
- There can be an immediate taking for specific needs such as roads and right of ways.
How Do Eminent Domain and Condemnation Work?
Maryland has delegated authority to condemn a property to local governments, municipalities, and quasi-governmental agencies. The process can be complex. It is often a good idea for a property owner to engage a lawyer to help ensure just compensation.
The process begins with a determination by a local government that it needs to acquire private property to fill a public need. Examples include a need for roads; new sewer lines or utilities; or other projects that benefit the public’s health, safety, and welfare.
The government may want all or just a portion of the private property. Sometimes they will need just a strip of land for a street widening or a drainage channel. There may also be a need for easements. Other times, they will want to condemn an entire property.
The authority wanting the land must give written notice to an owner that it intends to acquire all or part of a property. They will appraise the property to determine its value and estimate the just compensation owed.
A formal written offer that details the land and rights to be acquired is then made to the property owner. Representatives of the condemning agency may need to negotiate with the property owner and their lawyer to agree on compensation owed.
If the parties cannot successfully negotiate, the condemning authority will begin court action to acquire possession of the property.
In Maryland, one common method for this is called the quick take. The condemning agency deposits its offer of just compensation with the courts and is given physical possession of the property. This method is usually employed to prevent a delay in the public project while negotiations occur.
With a quick take, the property owner can withdraw the deposited funds then have a local panel review all appraisals and determine the just compensation due. At any time during the process, the two entities can reach an agreement to avoid further litigation. If they cannot agree, the courts will decide.
Once compensation is agreed on by the two entities or the court, a deed that transfers the land and/or rights from the property owner to the condemning authority will be developed and recorded.
What if I Am Displaced by an Eminent Domain Action?
If an eminent domain condemnation displaces someone, they are entitled to relocation compensation in addition to the value of the property. Both federal and state laws provide for additional payments to cover moving costs, replacement housing, and certain other expenses.
Should I Contest Eminent Domain/Condemnation?
The condemnation process is complex, and contesting it is best guided by a lawyer who knows eminent domain laws. Condemnation is difficult to challenge when a government establishes a public use requirement.
Following are procedural issues and rights that Maryland property owners facing condemnation should know and discuss with their legal counsel to determine whether to contest the action.
- A property owner must be given proper notice of the proposed condemnation, including advance notice. This is moot in the quick take action discussed above.
- In most cases, a property owner has the right to request a jury for a specific reason, such as to determine fair market value. Owners also have appeal rights if the court action does not end in their favor.
- When a property has been condemned, the owner is entitled to damages for the taking of the land, based on fair market value. Damages are awarded on tracts of land as well as on entire properties.
- The condemning authority must provide abundant evidence supporting how they arrived at their appraisal. The owner can also present appraisal evidence or rely on the state’s assessed value.
- As noted above, an owner or occupant of a condemned dwelling may be entitled to additional compensation. This compensation could include the reasonable cost of a replacement dwelling, interest, and debt for financing a comparable residence. A displaced person must, by law, be paid moving and relocation expenses.
- If a property owner successfully stops a condemnation, the state must pay court costs and allowances for the property owner’s legal, appraisal, and engineering fees. The owner may also be entitled to interest on damages at the current rate of six percent annually. They are also entitled to receive a credit for taxes paid before the property was condemned.
- An action for condemnation must be brought within four years of the administrative or legislative authority to acquire the property. However, this period can be renewed by a new authorization.
Towson Real Estate Litigation Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC, Can Help with Any Real Estate Problem
If you are experiencing eminent domain or condemnation issues, reach out to the Towson real estate litigation lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC. Whether it is eminent domain, condemnation, or any other real estate issue, our experienced team can offer solid guidance. For more information and a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 443-589-0150. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.