Condemnation is the final process of transferring ownership of property from a private entity to the government through the power of eminent domain. The Constitution of the United States provides both the right of eminent domain and its limitations for all government agencies, while the exact process is left to the states to determine. You have rights under California law to protect your interest when your property is being condemned.
The only limitations the Constitution places on the power of eminent domain is that the seizure must be taken for public use, and just compensation must be paid. What constitutes “public use” has been a matter of debate. In the Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London, the Court found that economic development constitutes public use. This allows the government to take private property and give it to private developers to build private businesses.
California Code of Civil Procedure
The eminent domain process leading up to condemnation in California is established in the California Code of Civil Procedures. The agency must pass a “resolution of necessity” to take the property through eminent domain. This requires the agency to first appraise the property in question and make an offer to the property owner, though the property owner does not have to accept this offer. The agency must then hold a public hearing showing that the project is necessary, the property in question is necessary for the project and further that that property offers the best tradeoff of public benefit to private loss. Once this hearing is over and the resolution of necessity adopted, the agency can commence with acquiring the property. The agency has the right to ask the court for permission to possess the property before the final amount it will pay the property owner has been determined.
Disputing the Offer
Challenges to the right of an agency to seize your property rarely succeed, but there is more hope when it comes to what you are paid for your property. The agency is required to offer compensation for seized property that includes its fair market value, the value of equipment or machinery that can't be moved and, in the case of a business, compensation for the loss of customer goodwill and profits.
If you believe your property and expenses are worth more than you have been offered, you are free to reject the offer and make a counteroffer. If you and the agency are unable to negotiate a mutually agreeable amount, you have the right to a jury trial to determine what just compensation for your property and expenses is. In this case, you should hire a lawyer who specializes in eminent domain cases in California.
Multiple groups circulated petitions in 2005 and 2006 challenging the eminent domain laws in California. These petitions aimed to limit the power of an agency to seize private property in cases of clear and essential public use, such as for schools, fire departments and other public buildings. These petitions sought to eliminate the use of eminent domain to give property to private developers for economic development. The petitions did not make the ballot, and the California laws on condemning property have not changed as of July 2011.