South Carolina Eminent Domain Lawyer

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South Carolina Eminent Domain Attorney

Property ownership is a privilege that many in South Carolina are able to enjoy. Working hard for your own piece of land for personal or business use can be a symbol of accomplishment. With this privilege comes the responsibility of care, but it is also afforded many rights.

Unfortunately for some property owners, their land can be at the center of conflict with the government, as it may wish to acquire the land for other public uses. Known as eminent domain, the government can make you believe that they have the right to take your land from you for minimal compensation.

At DeVore, Acton & Stafford, P.A., our eminent domain attorneys know how to navigate these often-complicated situations. Many clients think that they must comply with the government’s request for fear of other consequences.

However, our team knows your rights, and fighting back against such actions is one of them. You do not need to give in if faced with an eminent domain case. With a legal team that brings skill and experience to your side, you can fight to keep the land you have worked so hard to obtain.

How Does Eminent Domain Work in South Carolina?

Eminent domain is the process by which the government takes land owned privately by individuals or businesses to fulfill a project they deem is for public use. When acting in an eminent domain case, the government will take several steps to acquire the land:

  • The first step is to identify the land the government seeks to acquire through eminent domain.
  • The government then makes an offer to the property owner.
  • If the offer is refused by the property owner, the government will then file a legal claim to take the land.
  • A fair market value is then determined by the court.
  • The government then uses this amount as “just compensation” and pays the amount to the owner.
  • The government then gains ownership of the land.

Both parties involved have the right to fight for the property, and its value, in court.

Compensation determinations are initially made in the offer provided by the government, which is often low. However, there likely was some work done prior to extending the notice to take, and the offer may seem reasonable. Nevertheless, that offer is for the land only and does not take into account any personal property that exists.

Furthermore, the government may only take part of your land and leave the rest, such as farmland. In these cases, the initial offer may not take into consideration the value of the remaining land and the diminution of value that the remaining land may suffer as a result of the public use.

The value of the land is considered under what the land’s private use is most advantageous for. For example, if your land could be used as farmland and generate a source of income, the value of the land in such use needs to be taken into account, even if it is not currently used as such.

The taking of the land does not consider any future plans that you may have for the property. As such, you can counter the offer made by the government to include this discrepancy as a part of the compensation package.

If the land encompasses a business, the value of the business is not taken into account when determining the property value. Market value is strictly on the value of the land where the business sits. There are considerations made, however, if the value of the land helps the value of the property, and there may be additional compensation included.

In addition, you may be compensated for some relocation expenses regardless of whether your property was for business purposes or residential.

Property Rights and Eminent Domain

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government in the town of New London in one of the landmark eminent domain cases. This case consisted of the taking of homes that were considered run down by the local government, who wished to raze them and create an opportunity to redevelop the city. Because the court believed that this economic development was in the public interest, they ruled in favor of taking the land. They justified the economic development by condemning the land and structures, deeming them unsafe. While this is a major case that occurred more recently, the taking of private land for public use has been a practice of the government for some time.

What this case highlighted was the right of a landowner to fight back against the government’s taking. While the law justifies the taking of private land for a wide variety of uses, the government cannot take land for any reason they want. However, there are specific legal justifications that allow you to fight back, should you face what could be considered an unfair taking of your land. To fight back against the government, you must be able to prove one of two conditions:

  1. The use of the land will not be for public use.
  2. The compensation offered for the land is not equivalent to the fair market value of your land.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution allows the government to take private property for its own use, provided that just compensation is given to its owner. While the government can use these words to its advantage, the public can use the same words to protect themselves from the wrongful taking of their land.

In response to this case, South Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that served to protect residential and business landowners from abusive behaviors by the government in eminent domain cases. The amendment sought to specifically address the condemnation process to prevent the government from unjustly doing so.

Condemnation Action

Condemning a property means to deem it unsafe for use. However, this broad assumption can make it easy for the government to unjustly acquire properties that may not need to be condemned. The amendment in South Carolina went on to clarify that, to condemn a property, it must be a danger to public health and safety. This specific terminology allows the public to use their property rights as protection against unjust eminent domain.

Unfortunately, condemning a property has a greater impact than just creating a pathway to obtaining someone’s personal or commercial property. When the government threatens to condemn a property, it may force an owner to attempt to sell it to them. Unfortunately, in these situations, the government wields the power in that they can obtain the property regardless of a sale or not. Therefore, negotiations to obtain the property are limited, as the government will seek to acquire the land for a minimal economic amount.

In essence, if the government is unable to acquire the land through purchase, it will use the eminent domain process to take the property.

Public Use

Public use can cover a broad range of land use. South Carolina seeks to combat these vague policies by further defining the use of the land as that which will be used by the public at large or by a public agency. When the government attempts to condemn property under nonspecific terms to acquire the land, they are less likely to be successful in their acquisition, as the state seeks to protect the rights of individual and business property owners. The state further argues that the land must have a definite and fixed use intention, instead of just claiming that the taking of the land itself is for public benefit.

In an eminent domain case, the land is taken on the assumption that it will be used for public use through economic development. Unfortunately, these developments are in communities that are already impacted by economic hardship. Those who reside on the land that is taken are then displaced without the necessary compensation to begin again elsewhere. These areas are often inhabited by people of color, those who are less educated, or those who live at or below the poverty line. The government often targets these locations because there is a false assumption that those who occupy such properties are less likely to have the means or resources to fight back against their actions.

Rather than use the land for the construction of roads, bridges, or other structures that would help communities, the projects that displace these residents are often left undeveloped in the end. Many turn into vacant lots, which create further economic hardships for communities.

One glaring issue raised by South Carolina residents in cases of eminent domain is that the government will claim the property for private use, only to allow it to end up in the hands of a private company. This can be one area where litigation with your attorney can be effective, as it violates the clause in the constitution regarding the rationale for taking the land.

No matter the community or the type of property in question, every property owner has the right to fight back against unjust eminent domain with the help of an experienced attorney.

How Do You Argue Against Eminent Domain?

The first step in fighting an eminent domain case is to establish that the government is not using the land for public use or that they are not offering just compensation for the land. Working in tandem with a real estate broker, an attorney can help investigate your case to determine the legitimacy of both of these stipulations. While it may be tempting to fight back without the help of a real estate lawyer to save money, it is not recommended to do so.

Real estate law can be complicated and confusing without the counsel of an attorney who can provide clarity throughout your case. It’s recommended that you seek the help of an attorney from the moment you receive an intent to take notice, stating that your property is being taken. The notice is not an immediate action, which means that you have time to respond. Unfortunately, you cannot refuse the notice, only fight back against it.

When working with an attorney, they can guide you through several steps to fight back. These include:

  • Research why the land is needed for public use and for what specific project it will be used for.
  • Contact an attorney who can support you and help you understand the rights that are afforded to you in the process.
  • While most real estate attorneys have access to real estate professionals and resources, you may find that you will need to hire a real estate professional to help.
  • Ensure that all communications with the government are done with the help of your attorney. Do not attempt to negotiate or exchange communications on your own.
  • Get an independent valuation of your property. The government will offer its own determination of its fair market value, but that does not mean it is correct.

Prior to any litigation, your attorney can work with you to build a defense strategy that keeps your interests in mind. While every case has its own set of circumstances, there are several defense strategies that are common in eminent domain cases. These include:

  • There is a lack of public use justification for taking the land under eminent domain.
  • The property is not in a state that justifies its condemnation.
  • You have been offered an unfair settlement for your property.

In eminent domain cases, it is up to the government to prove that the value of the property is fair and that the taking of the land is required for public use. If they are unable to do so, the property owner may be more successful in the outcome of the case.

South Carolina Eminent Domain Attorney

If you are facing an eminent domain case, you deserve to have an attorney on your side who understands your rights as a property owner and the laws that impact the government’s attempt at acquiring that land. Whether your property is the future site of a park, road, bridge, or other public use entity, you are entitled to not only fair compensation but the opportunity to keep your property. At DeVore, Acton & Stafford, P.A., our attorneys understand the real estate laws that impact eminent domain and have the resources available to build a case on your behalf. South Carolina laws protect your right to own property without fear of losing it. Let us help protect you. Contact our offices today.


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