Eminent domain, or condemnation, refers to the authority given to the federal, state and local governments, as well as utility companies, to take land and property rights primarily for use in road construction and utility projects. Under the United States and Wisconsin Constitutions, land owners are entitled to just compensation for the loss of land or property rights taken from them. In some circumstances, property owners may be able to challenge the need to take their property. Ordinarily, however, most challenges involve the amount of compensation paid for the property or property rights taken.
It is important that property owners consult an attorney experienced in eminent domain law in order to ensure that their rights are protected and that they receive fair value for their losses. Eminent domain is a unique area of law, and the procedures and statutes applicable to it are not commonly understood by most attorneys. When confronted with the loss of a valuable asset----their residential or business property---it is vitally important that owners immediately consult with legal counsel knowledgeable about the options available to them and the strict deadlines for responding to the notices they receive.
Property owners should not assume that representatives of the authorities taking their property are looking out for the best interests of property owners. They are not, and often do not offer to pay fair compensation for what is to be taken. We work with professionals in real estate appraisal and other experts to determine what compensation property owners should receive, as well as other rights, such as highway access, they should be afforded. If necessary, we will file cases on behalf of land owners to ensure that they are treated fairly.
Finally, at Lawton & Cates we are able to represent most of our eminent domain clients at NO COST to them. We can explain how statutory cost and fee shifting provisions work, in the event we file a legal challenge concerning just compensation. Or, if the client desires and circumstances warrant it, we can negotiate on their behalf with government or utility representatives. But property owners are well advised to contact the right legal counsel early in the condemnation process, well before valuable property rights are taken from them.