Property ownership is the American dream. Millions of Pennsylvanians spend several years setting money aside so that they can afford to buy a house, and others pass their homes to family members as part of an inter-generational legacy.
People tend to think of their ownership rights as absolute. Unless they fall behind on their mortgage and face foreclosure or fail to pay their taxes, they assume that they will own that property until they die or decide to sell it. However, there is a rare but very real possibility that could to the loss of property through no fault of an individual’s own.
Eminent domain is a legal means by which government authorities can potentially lay claim to private property. In Pennsylvania, eminent domain claims almost always involve projects for public benefit, typically conducted by government agencies like the Department of Transportation. How can a homeowner defend against a pending eminent domain claim?
Challenge the project or their property’s inclusion
Sometimes, those presented with an offer for their property related to eminent domain and an upcoming project will question whether that project actually qualifies under state law for such properties eases. It is sometimes possible for homeowners to fight back against involuntary property sales compelled for a project that is not truly in the public interest. Other times, the project itself may be valid, but the inclusion of a specific parcel may not be necessary.
Challenge the fair market value offered
The professionals or agency attempting to compel the sale of real property for a project will obviously want to keep what they pay for the properties as low as possible. State law requires that any involuntary sale involves someone receiving the fair market value for their home.
Sometimes the issue with an eminent domain scenario is not whether the property is at risk but rather how much the property is actually worth. Those who believe that the offer they received is unfair and far too low could potentially use appraisals or estimates from real estate professionals to show that the amount offered does not reflect what the property is really worth.
Preparing an appropriate response to an eminent domain claim with the help of a legal professional can help to protect someone from the loss of their most valuable asset.