The real estate market has returned and it has brought a significant increase in Eminent Domain cases along with it. The Florida Department of Transportation is no small contributor to this recent spike in Eminent Domain activity, having taken on multiple projects across Polk County. One of the most robust Eminent Domain projects is the widening of Dundee Road/SR-542 between Winter Haven and Dundee.
Similarly, the Florida Department of Transportation is about to undertake a significant Eminent Domain taking in a new upcoming project—the massive undertaking of widening US-92/SR-600 from west of I-75 in Hillsborough County all the way to into Polk County east of Wabash Avenue.
Most people know what Eminent Domain is in general terms—the government, for one reason or another, takes land that is yours and compensates you for it. However, it is much more complicated than that—it’s not just dirt. Most people understand that they will paid fair market value for their real estate involved—that the government will pay you for your dirt—but there are also other damages that a landowner can be compensated for.
Real Estate Damages
Real Estate damages are the most obvious and the most simplistic category of the compensation awarded under Eminent Domain. The owners of the real estate are not the only ones who are entitled to compensation, however; compensation is also owed to people who own easements, future interests, leases, mortgages, mineral rights, trees and crops, and billboards on the property, just to name a few.
Let’s say that the Department of Transportation tells you that they plan to widen the road that runs in front of your house. You should be paid for the actual land that they take, right? Of course. But what about the reduction in value to the remainder of your land as a result of the government taking the road frontage of your property? That’s where severance damages come into play—the government must compensate you for the devaluation of the remainder of your property that remains in your name.
Severance damages also come to play in another situation. Let’s say you own a ranch and the local water authority wants to carve a canal through the middle of your ranch to allow for additional drainage, effectively dividing your ranch into two smaller ranches. You can be compensated for this division, too.
Business Damages are a form of compensation that is special to Florida—most other states do not allow for compensation for a loss in business. However, if the business has been established for longer than 5 years and can show that the loss of property has harmed the business’ profitability, the business can be compensated for its loss of business.
What if the government takes so much land that you have to move? The government may have to pay for your moving costs, too. This is based on the concept of making the landowner “whole.” If the government had not taken the land to such an extent, the land owner would not have had to incur the expense of moving. Therefore, the government should reimburse the landowner for the money spent on moving costs that the land owner would not have otherwise had to spend.
Uniform Relocation Assistance Act
The Uniform Relocation Assistance Act and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 is a Federal law which ensures that any person will not suffer disproportionate injuries in being displaced by a project that is undertaken by a Federal agency or that receives Federal financial assistance. This Act is two-pronged: first, it provides assistance to find suitable replacement housing or commercial sites through the relocation assistance advisory program, and second, it provides moving and reestablishment housing payments to displaced persons.
This information is just the beginning. Eminent Domain is a minefield for the unwary property owner, and should be navigated with the assistance of experienced attorneys and other professionals.
Please join us on June 20, 2017 at 5:30 P.M. at our Lakeland Office as our shareholder and in-house Eminent Domain Guru, Deborah Ruster, gives a seminar covering these and other Eminent Domain issues relating to the upcoming US-92/SR600 widening project more thoroughly. Please contact us for information regarding your rights in your Eminent Domain case.