Stages of a Government Taking of Private Land in North Carolina

In North Carolina, governmental agencies (and some private third parties like railroads and utility companies) can take private land for public use through the power of eminent domain. There is a legal process that must be taken which is generally called a "condemnation proceeding." The governmental agency must file papers with the local county court, give legally proper notice to the landowner, etc. The governmental agency also must pay the fair market value of the land taken which must be deposited with the local court. In many circumstances, the governmental agency must also provide additional money for landowners, families and businesses to compensate them for relocation expenses.

When the government takes your private land, generally, the owners must vacate the land and find a new place to live or operate their business.

For this and other reasons, having your land taken by the government can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. Landowners have legal rights when this happens. Landowners can challenge the amount deposited by the government as the "fair market value," can challenge the authority of the governmental agency, can challenge whether the purpose of the taking is truly for "public use" and more. It is wise to consult with experienced North Carolina eminent domain attorneys -- like those at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. – if your land is about to be taken.

Fortunately, there are usually several warning signs that your land is in danger of being taken for public use. These warning signs provide landowners with some time to act and obtain legal advice and counsel if they do not want their land taken by the government. Here is a brief summary of the stages of a government taking of private land for public use.

Public Announcements and Hearings

Governmental agencies are not legally required to make any sort of public announcement when there are plans being developed that involve possible takings of private land.

But, as a practical matter, there is almost always some sort of announcement or at least a media report. This is because taking private land is stressful, causes landowners to call their local political representatives and generally causes a public uproar, particularly if a large number of landowners are impacted.

Further, if a local governmental agency is involved, the agency is generally required to vote to approve the building or other project that will involve use of their power of eminent domain. Nearly always, some sort of public announcement must be made and public hearings must be conducted. Generally, local media will report on these plans and projects, will alert the local population about the hearing(s) and will report on the results.

So, again, as a practical matter, the first warning sign is often an announcement of some sort. At that point, landowners may be able to take political action.

Visits to Your Land

In the advance planning of a public works project -- like building a new road -- the governmental agency involved will almost always visit any land or property which might be subject to being taken via eminent domain. Note that, sometimes, THIS is the first warning sign that your land might be in danger of being taken for public use. This might be the first sign since the governmental agency may not have decided yet to go forward with the project. As such, the governmental agency has not yet taken steps that would result in a public announcement. The purpose of the visit might be to measure the land, take soil and boring samples and the like. Essentially, the governmental agencies are trying to determine if the land is suitable for the public project under consideration. The other purpose is to allow for the appraisal of the land. The appraisal will be used for negotiations (if any) and as the basis for the fair market value that will be deposited with the local court if a condemnation proceeding is filed. A visit to the land in question (and discussions with the landowners) will also be used to evaluate the government's responsibilities to pay relocation expenses. For example, the government will discover how many people live on the land, if a business operates on the land, etc. By North Carolina law, governmental agencies are allowed to enter onto private land for these purposes.

Negotiations for Private Sale

The next stage of a government taking of private land for public use is the negotiation stage. The governmental agency will contact the landowner and attempt to buy the land at a private sale. Not all governmental agencies are legally required to conduct negotiations, but, as a practical matter, there is usually some effort to obtain the land through a private sale. This is because a private sale is often easier, less stressful for the landowners and causes less public uproar.

At THIS stage, a landowner has certain knowledge that their land is in danger of being taken by the government for public use. It is wise to obtain legal counsel at this point if the landowner opposes the taking.

Filing of Condemnation Proceedings

The final stage of a government taking of private land for public use is the filing of condemnation papers with the local court. In North Carolina, most condemnation proceedings are "quick take" proceedings meaning that legal title to the land in question transfers to the governmental agency almost immediately. Legal challenges can still be made at this stage. But, generally, those residing on the land will be required to vacate in about 30 days or so.

Contact Experienced Mecklenburg County Land Use/Eminent Domain Attorneys Today

For more information, and to schedule a confidential consultation with experienced and dedicated eminent domain and condemnation attorneys in Charlotte, contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Use our “Contact” page or give us a call at 704-370-2828. We handle land use, zoning and condemnation legal matters in federal court, in Mecklenburg County and elsewhere in North Carolina. We have offices in Charlotte, Lake Norman, and Union County.