Eminent Domain Basics

This is a good place to start if you have questions about eminent domain proceedings. You're not alone. Here are answers to some common questions property owners have when facing the possibility of an eminent domain proceeding. If you have specific questions about your own circumstances, contact attorney Isaac Thorp at the Thorp Law Firm in Raleigh at (919) 833-6408.

What is eminent domain?

Eminent domain refers to the government’s power to take private property for a public purpose. This process is also known as condemnation. When the government takes property through eminent domain, it has to pay the property owner "just compensation." This means the government has to pay you full market value for the property it takes.


Who can take my property?

Federal, state or city governments can condemn your land if they can show that it’s necessary for a public purpose. Public utilities can also take your property through eminent domain. They can only take your property if it’s necessary for a public purpose, such as building new roads or schools or installing power or sewer lines.


How much do they have to pay me?

The Constitution says the government has to pay you “just compensation.” This means it has to pay the full fair market value for your property.


How does the government decide what’s fair?

The government hires an appraiser who is supposed to figure out the fair market value of your property. An appraiser typically does this by looking at the price other properties like yours have sold for. These are called "comparable sales." The appraiser will then form an opinion about what he believes your property is worth.

Keep in mind, an appraisal is only one person’s opinion. If the appraiser doesn’t do his homework, he may miss some comparable sales he should consider. If an appraiser does a lot of work for the government, he may be biased. This can sometimes affect the appraiser’s opinion and result in an appraisal that’s too low.


How do I know I'm getting paid fairly?

The only way to know for sure is to have an appraiser thoroughly investigate property values in your area, an appraiser who isn’t working for the other side and understands the condemnation process. Doing an appraisal for a condemnation case is a lot more complex than doing an appraisal for someone who wants to refinance his mortgage.

An experienced eminent domain lawyer can save you a whole lot of time and anxiety by finding a qualified appraiser who knows how eminent domain works. You don’t have to simply trust the government when it says its offer is fair. We can help you evaluate so that you can make the right decision financially for you and your family.


Can I take what they pay me and seek more?

Absolutely. After the government pays you what it says the property is worth, the money is yours to keep. You may also seek additional compensation through a lawsuit. The government cannot take back the money it has already paid, nor force you to pay back what you have already received.


Can I stop the condemnation from happening?

The government is required to notify property owners of its intent to condemn property. You can sue to stop the process if you can show that the project is not necessary for the public good. It’s hard to stop a condemnation, although sometimes property owners are successful.


What if the government takes only part of my property?

The government may decide that it requires only a part or parcel of your property to meet its public project needs and pay you for what it takes. You may be entitled to be paid more if the remaining land is worth less as a result of the condemnation project.


What should I do before the government takes my property?

First, do no harm. Don’t stake yourself out about how much you think your property is worth. Opinions you share with the government or its appraisers about what you think your land is worth can later be used in court and may hurt your case. The eminent domain process is complicated. The best thing you can do is to maximize your financial leverage by contacting an experienced eminent domain attorney.


If I have to move, can I get compensated?

If you have to move because of the condemnation project, you may be entitled to compensation related to moving expenses. North Carolina’s Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act may provide financial assistance to help you with these costs.

Call for a Free Consultation

Call the Thorp Law Firm in Raleigh at (919) 833-6408 to learn more. Attorney Isaac Thorp is recognized as one of the pre-eminent eminent domain lawyers in the state and represents landowners statewide.