What is Condemnation Law?

Mary McMahon

Condemnation law is an area of the practice of law which is concerned with fighting suits in which property is condemned by the government in connection with an eminent domain case. In this sense, condemnation refers not to certifying a property as uninhabitable until required improvements are made, but to taking possession of the title to a property for the public good. When an eminent domain case reaches the condemnation stage, it means that the government is about to execute a forcible sale.

The assistance of an attorney may be necessary when property is seized without good reason.
The assistance of an attorney may be necessary when property is seized without good reason.

Under eminent domain, the government is allowed to take possession of property and rededicate it to public use if it can demonstrate a compelling reason to do so. While this usually happens with real estate, governments can also seize other types of property for public use, including things like intellectual property. In most jurisdictions, the government is not allowed to perform such seizures without a clear cause, although sometimes "public use" can be legally nebulous and this can be grounds for argument in condemnation law.

The government usually starts by making an offer to purchase, providing what it believes is a fair market value offer for a piece of property. If the property owner declines, condemnation law enters the picture, as the government can condemn the property to take possession. The government may not take full possession, choosing instead to acquire an interest such as an easement. For example, if there is a need to build a public highway, the government could allow the property owner to retain title while creating an easement for the road.

Under the law, when a property owner is subjected to a forced sale of this nature, fair compensation must be received. The property owner is given notice and an opportunity to fight the seizure as well as to contest the value assigned to the property. A specialist in condemnation law can provide assistance to a property owner who wishes to fight an eminent domain seizure altogether or to negotiate a better sale price.

Eminent domain litigation can become quite contentious. Consulting a condemnation law attorney at the very start of eminent domain proceedings is strongly recommended. Bringing an attorney into the picture early can provide people with more opportunities to intervene and contest the sale, increasing the chances of reaching a favorable outcome. Even if the attorney is unable to help a property owner retain title, it may be possible to receive a larger settlement in the forced sale, which will increase the landowner's options when it comes to finding replacement property.

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