What is eminent domain?

How is the government, GDOT, or a utility taking your property? The law enables them – but only if you’re compensated.

Georgia eminent domain explained

When you own a property, it’s yours to use as you see fit. Generally speaking, no one can simply take it from you if you don’t want to sell. That’s what most people believe, and they’re mostly correct — that is until the government decides that it needs some or all of your property.

Can the government take your land without consent?

Yes, it can. The term for when the government takes land is known as the “eminent domain” process, which refers to the legal method the government uses to take your property without your consent. Condemnation is another term you may hear applied to a taking. The meaning is the same: the state is going to take your property.

Here’s what it means, how it works, a list of current GDOT projects, and what you can do if your property is subject to an eminent domain taking.

Is the government taking your property through eminent domain?

Should you be receiving more for you property than it is offering?

Call us any time at 1-888-391-1339 or contact us online for a free, no obligation case evaluation.

What is eminent domain?

Eminent domain is the power of the government to seize real property – land – from private citizens. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, among other things, that private property cannot be taken for public use by the government without just compensation. The implication and interpretation of the amendment are that the government has the power to seize private property, but it must provide owners with just compensation – fair market value – when it does so.

road construction

When is eminent domain used: examples of eminent domain

Eminent domain is supposed to be used when there is a public need, though what form that need takes is often left to the condemning authority. The government may permanently take your land, temporarily take your land, or simply take some rights on your land and allow you to keep the land itself.

An example of eminent domain could be an individual owning several acres of land near a school. The government decides to expand the school as the community grows and starts an eminent domain proceeding to take some or all of their property.  

Or, let’s say a utility needs to run a conduit of some sort across your land. It may temporarily take the land to build the conduit, and then permanently take an easement on the land to maintain it – leaving you with the land, but limiting how you can use it.

More often, eminent domain is used by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). The majority of eminent domain proceedings involve building or expanding roads. Perhaps you own a gas station on a corner, and GDOT determines that a new turn lane is needed to increase traffic safety and flow. They may take a piece of your property.

pipeline construction

What are the eminent domain laws in Georgia?

While the Constitution provides the government with the right of eminent domain, the states generally have their own nuanced interpretations, though many are similar. Georgia’s eminent domain laws are enshrined in Title 22 of the Georgia Code.

What does eminent domain mean? In Georgia, the statute states that, “The right of eminent domain is the right of the state, to reassert, either temporarily or permanently, its dominion over any portion of the soil of the state on account of public exigency and for the public good.”

Two important things to unpack there:

  1. Temporarily or permanently: Eminent domain takings can be temporary, though even temporary takings can last for years depending on the need.
  2. Public exigency and the public good: These are nebulous terms, but they refer to public use, and the statute goes on to state, “Public use is a matter of law to be determined by the court, and the condemnor bears the burden of proof.”

In other words, the state must demonstrate that taking your property serves the public good. Unfortunately for property owners, that’s not difficult to do, historically speaking.

backhoe digging

For commercial property owners, the issues that arise are more complex.

Any eminent domain taking could be catastrophic to the value and usability of a property, including zoning, setbacks, usage, access, and many other characteristics that are key to the property’s value.

So how much is your property really worth?

The Fifth Amendment requires the government or condemning authority to justly compensate property owners for what it takes. It does not, however, define or enumerate what constitutes “just” compensation. This is where property owners often get confused and take much less than their property is worth.

When the government initiates an eminent domain taking, they’ll also make you an offer for the property they’re taking. They do not have to show you how they arrived at their offer – the state is not required to share its appraisals. If you take that offer, you get the money, and the state receives the property.

If you do NOT accept, the state deposits its offer with the Clerk of Court in the county where the property is and takes the property anyway. That’s right. Once the condemning authority – often GDOT – files with the county and deposits the money, it legally owns the land. However, if you did not accept the offer, you still have the chance to negotiate for more compensation.

There are right and wrong ways to do this, and the wrong ways could cost you a lot of money. Call us at the Georgia Eminent Domain Law Firm at 1-888-391-1339, or contact us online for a free case evaluation. 

savannah chatham county courthouse

Call us before your negotiation window closes and the government takes your property

At the Georgia Eminent Domain Law Firm, all we do is eminent domain every single day. We know the law, the processes, and how to seek maximum value on behalf of our clients. 

Furthermore, we guarantee that if we take your case and cannot get you more than the government’s initial offer, you won’t pay us a dime. No attorney’s fee. None of the sunk costs of appraisals or any other fees we’ve incurred. 

And we don’t touch that initial offer money, ever. We are paid on the contingency that we collect for you. Our fee only comes from the amount we’re able to win for you over and above the government’s initial offer.2 You literally have nothing to lose by hiring us to represent you.

Call us any time at 1-888-391-1339 or contact us online today for a free case evaluation. 

We front all costs & guarantee you'll pay nothing if we don't get you more than the government's offer.

Get a free case
evaluation today.

There are only a handful of attorneys in GA who practice eminent domain exclusively. And even fewer with DOT experience. That’s why it’s always worth it to get a free case evaluation.

Here’s how it works:

1) Tell us about your situation.

2) We research your property as needed, using DOT maps, our own technology, and experience to see the exact effects.

3) We let you know what we think a fair offer would be. This evaluation is free, and there’s no
pressure or obligation to hire us after.

But please don’t wait to act. Waiting can hurt your case, and the cost is the same: free.

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