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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How Much Is My Condemnation Worth?

The most common question I get asked is, by far: “How much money is my Condemnation case worth?”

My answer to that question is always: “You can’t tell by just looking at the initial information the Department of Transportation (or other entity) has given you. But I can help you find out.” 

The reason for this is simple.  I’ve seen hundreds of “initial offer packages,” and these packages simply do not provide enough information from which to make an informed decision on value.  The majority of those “packages” include the booklet, “What Happens When Your Property Is Needed For A Transportation Facility;” a “Receipt for Brochure;” a “Statement of Estimated Values;” an “Owner’s Receipt of Plans & Explanation Acknowledgement;” an “Option for Right of Way;” and a “Right of Way Map” (usually attached to the “Option”). 

First, the “Right of Way Map” shows only a two-dimensional drawing of the amount of fee simple land and easement area that the Department needs for its purposes.  To make an informed decision, in addition to what is shown on the Right of Way Map, you need to know, at a minimum: what the taking looks like in three dimensions, the proximity of the taking to improvements, the construction limits of the property and whether there are “cuts” and/or “fills” that affect you, the size and shape of drainage structures that may be discharging water onto your property, and slope and size of any adjustments being made to your driveway. 

The good news is that the DOT has this information and will usually share it if you know what to ask for.  Nearly all of the information you need is contained in a thick set of plans (like the kind given to the construction contractor) called aptly, the “Construction Plans.”  Within these are the “Mainline Plan,” which looks like the “Right of Way Map” but has more detailed information; the “Profile” of the road, which shows any difference in elevation between the new and old road beds; the “Cross Sections,” which show the new road and new shoulders in three dimensions; the “Driveway Profile,” which shows the construction and slope of any changes to your driveway; and “Drainage Profiles,” which give the specifics of any new drainage pipes that may affect your property.   While having even all of these plans may not give you all the information you need, it almost certainly will make you better informed and give you a better starting point from which to negotiate with your Right of Way agent. 

Beyond that, you need more information about the offer.  The State of Georgia’s Constitution requires any Condemning Authority to pay for both the value of land actually taken or used and any consequential damages to the remainder.  Before you can make an informed decision about the worth of your case, you need to know whether the Department’s offer includes money for both.  You also need to know things like: How did they arrive at the value?  What price per acre was used? What are the comparable sales that were used? Is there a “Cost to Cure”? Is any money being paid for a business operated on the property (if applicable)?  Like most things in life, it is only when you have all the best available information that you can make an informed decision. 

And even once you have all of this information, it is still a good idea to get the property appraised by an independent appraiser with both experience in condemnation and experience testifying in court.  Over the years, I’ve learned that it is only after you have received all of the necessary information and have received an independent appraisal that you can answer the question more important than “How much is my case worth?” – and that is, “Has the Department of Transportation offered me enough money to settle?”   

Are you a property owner who has received a condemnation notice?  For more information about Condemnation Law, email William A. White at wwhite@smithwelchlaw.com or call 770-957-3937.  Smith, Welch, Webb and White is recognized as a premier law firm throughout the State of Georgia with expertise in this area of law. We have an uncompromising commitment to serving our clients and our community. Our team of experts routinely handles a wide range of legal matters, and will provide outstanding service for you, your family or your business.

 

Any representations regarding the law in this Blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


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