When most people hear about Eminent Domain, they are shocked. The idea that the federal government can come onto your property and claim it as their own is downright disturbing, especially to Arizonans, who are a fiercely independent bunch. And, when you get that letter from Uncle Sam that he wants your property, there is good news and bad news.
First, the bad news
Of course, you can fight him, and most Eminent Domain attorneys and experts agree that you should fight it. Those who fight it usually end up with more compensation than those who take the first offer. However, when we say fight it, we do not mean you will be able to keep your land. It is possible, but generally, if Uncle Sam wants your land, the bar for taking your land is exceedingly low.
Then, what is the good news?
You have the Constitutional right to just compensation for your property. And, you have the right to fight for what you think is an appropriate value for your land. This is where your lawyer will be the most helpful, and where you can get some semblance of justice.
What does just compensation mean?
When the Constitution refers to “just compensation,” it means the compensation that would make you whole again. This means you must be left in the same financial situation as if the federal government had not taken your land. Of course, this is not only a simple valuation process but this also means that, if the government’s actions have devalued the land, you get the pre-devaluation value, not post.
Fair market value
Usually, the evaluation process centers on a determination of the property’s fair market value. And, it is common for both sides to have a battle of expert witnesses. These experts will argue over the accessibility of the property, zoning and use, property size, any unique property characteristics or features, current or potential use and the level of development on the land. All of these features are used to make the determination.
Not your value though
Unfortunately, fair market value does not include what the value of the land is to you. It does not factor in your emotional loss, even if this land has been in your family for hundreds of years. It does not include the loss of your local connections, the emotional effect of the loss on you and your family.
It also does not include stress, loss of time or expenses, like litigation or moving. If there is one takeaway from this though, it is that Phoenix, Arizona, will likely need their own experts to fight Uncle Sam.