Yes. In fact, the first step in the process will be for the condemnor to contact you to negotiate the purchase of your property or property rights. They are required to pay you "just and adequate compensation" for your property. Generally, however, you can expect the initial offer from the government will be nowhere close to what your property is worth. The government will try to low-ball you and strong-arm you into a cheap settlement. This is often especially true for municipal and county governments who do not have big budgets for land acquisition. Without an experienced eminent domain lawyer representing you, you may not get all the compensation you deserve.
In condemnation cases in Georgia, the government or other utility taking your property has to pay the fair market value for your property. This may include several types of compensation, including:
- the value of the land taken;
- the loss in value to the remainder of your land (called consequential damages) if only part of your land is taken;
- the value of most fixtures, equipment and improvements installed on the land taken;
- the value of any lease interests taken;
- the loss of value or damage to your business caused by the taking;
- relocation benefits (though these are available in limited circumstances); and
- interest, attorney's fees, and other litigation expenses and court costs.
When negotiating for fair compensation, you should make sure to take into account the highest and best use of your property (which may be more valuable than its current use). To get the government to pay more than they are offering, you probably need to have an appraiser justify the higher market value. To make sure you get the maximum compensation to which you are entitled, you will need to be prepared to go to court. This will require hiring a expert real estate witness who will testify at trial. If you hire an appraiser to give you an opinion, see if he will be willing to testify on your behalf if necessary. You may also need experts such as a business appraiser, a real estate agent, an economist, and other experts who can testify about the fair market value of your property.
The government will also expect you to sign settlement documents or easements in exchange for payment. DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING THE GOVERNMENT GIVES YOU until you have an experienced Georgia eminent domain lawyer review the paperwork.
Often, condemning authorities will take more property rights than they are entitled to without paying extra compensation. For example, the water department may ask you to sign a an easement to run water lines through your neighborhood. However, the easement document may also state that you are giving them all utility rights, including telecommunications rights, electrical easements, or a right-of-way across your property. These are valuable rights that you should not give away until you have consulted with experts. Most of the time, hiring an experienced Georgia eminent domain lawyer can get you significantly more compensation than you would get on your own.
If you have been contacted by an agent asking to take rights to your property or business, call us for a free consultation. Level the playing field by hiring a law firm that has the experience and expertise to protect your legal rights.