What is a North Carolina 'Quick Take' Condemnation?

In North Carolina, the government (and some private third parties like utility companies) can take private land through the legal doctrine of eminent domain. This process is called “condemnation” or “land taking" and the government agency (or private third party) is called the "condemnor." When a condemnation happens, legal title to and possession of the land is taken by the condemnor and those residing on the land must vacate.

Generally, for a taking of private land to be legal, these conditions must be met:

  • The condemnor must have legal authority to engage in condemnation proceedings
  • The taking must be necessary
  • Be for "public use" and
  • The condemnor must pay "just compensation" for the land taken (which is generally interpreted to mean the fair market value of the land)

Under North Carolina law, a landowner facing a condemnation of their land can file litigation in a local court and make various legal challenges to the taking. For example, a landowner can argue that the taking was not for "public use." Indeed, many landowners litigate the question of whether the amount offered by the condemnor is, in fact, the fair market value of the land being taken. Aside from these issues, other legal questions may arise with condemnation proceedings including situations where there are clouds on the title, where lender financing and mortgages exist and financial entitlements to other occupants of the land (like renters) and more.

However, litigation is a time-consuming and lengthy process, particularly since parties to litigation have the right to appeal. And, from the standpoint of the condemNor, waiting for the litigation to finish is very problematic. While the litigation is pending, the condemnor cannot get started on construction.

This, then, is the purpose of allowing "quick take" condemnations. A quick take condemnation shortens the process by immediately transferring title and possession of the land to the condemnor when the condemnation papers are filed. The process of condemnation begins when the condemning authority files various papers with the local county court. These are generally called a Complaint and Declaration of Taking. Usually at the same time, the condemning authority also deposits with the court the amount of money that the condemnor believes to be the "just compensation." Under the rules of a quick take condemnation, those two steps are legally sufficient to transfer legal title of the land to the condemnor which, in turn, gives the condemnor the right to immediate possession of the land. There is no court order needed and the landowner does not even need to sign a deed transferring the legal title. In practice, landowners are given about 30 days to vacate. But, as one can see, with a quick take condemnation, the condemning authority will be able to quickly start the project.

With a quick take condemnation, landowners have the right to accept the amount deposited by the condemnor but also have the right to file litigation and challenge whether the condemnation is lawful and/or whether the amount paid is fair and just. But, while the litigation proceeds, the construction project will start and may even finish before a court makes a final ruling on the legality of the condemnation. This is, for example, what happened in the case of Town of Apex v. Rubin, 2021 NCCOA 187 (N.C. Court of Appeals 2021). In that case, the Town filed a condemnation action against a private landowner to take a 40-foot easement across landowner's property to connect a private residential development to the Town's sewer service. The condemnation was a quick take and title and possession transferred. But the landowner challenged whether the condemnation was proper. After years of litigation and appeals, it was determined that the condemnation was NOT proper. But, in the meantime, the sewer pipe had been laid and, now, the landowner is required to file more litigation to have the sewer pipe removed.

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.