Government entities have the ability to take private property for a public purpose (such as a highway, school or transit project) provided they offer fair compensation to the owner. It’s a controversial process, but not sudden or abrupt as some people assume. There is no swooping in on some hapless property owner—Maryland law requires certain steps to be followed before the government can assume control of land belonging to someone else.
Identifying a Public Need
The eminent domain process begins when the government identifies a public need and decides that private property must be acquired to fulfill that need. Public hearings are usually involved, with the property owner sometimes being given an individual hearing notice beforehand.
Making an offer
The government authority directing the condemnation typically sends written notice of its intent to the property owner and makes an initial offer that may or may not include relocation costs. Under state law, the condemner must make good faith attempts to negotiate the acquisition of the property. If the owner repels all reasonable compensation offers, a lawsuit will be filed in circuit court.
If a trial takes place, both the government authority and the property owner are allowed to present evidence to support their contention of what the compensation should be. When it comes to eminent domain matters, certain Maryland state and city agencies have “quick-take” authority, meaning that they can go to the court’s registry, pay an amount they believe the owner is entitled to receive for the property, and proceed to start necessary construction work. The owner may withdraw this money without prejudicing their right to a trial for fair compensation. Government bodies without quick take authority can only pay and take possession after a judgment is entered.
Unless the case is settled before the trial concludes, a verdict will be reached. If the amount awarded in a quick take case is lower than the amount the government agency paid the property owner through the court, the owner must remit the difference. In cases where quick take is not involved, the government can abandon the condemnation process if it believes the verdict is excessive, but must pay the property owner’s reasonable costs and attorney’s fees.
Can I Stop the Process?
Maryland law only supports the cessation of the eminent domain process if the reason for taking your property does not meet the requirements for public necessity or purpose. Otherwise, there is little a property owner can do. You are, however, entitled to just compensation under eminent domain law.
To learn more about your rights as a property owner under the Maryland eminent domain process, contact us today or call 410-296-6485.