Eminent domain is the state’s power to seize private property, or rights in private property, without the owner’s consent.
As Florida’s population continues to grow, there is an ongoing need for roads, schools, libraries, public utilities, high speed rail, natural gas pipelines, and other public improvements. Local and state governments must negotiate in good faith to acquire private property for such public uses. However, if property cannot be acquired through a voluntary transaction, governments may take private property through the eminent domain process.
Florida is one of the few states that require a condemning authority to pay a property owner’s attorneys’ fees and costs at the conclusion of the case. Costs would include experts necessary to establish a condemnee’s claim, such as appraisers, accountants, land planners, engineers, contractor, surveyors and other professionals. The public policy behind this is to level the playing field to ensure that the government does not have the upper hand in taking an owner’s property, as the government has virtually unlimited resources.
The eminent domain process is governed by Chapters 73 and 74 of the Florida State Statutes. Florida is one of only a handful of states that are required to compensate a business owner for lost profits resulting from a taking. However, there are certain restrictions imposed on these businesses, and the following requirement must be met:
- The condemning authority must be a public body, and not a public utility or private condemning authority that has been delegated eminent domain power by the Legislature.
- The taking of the property must be for right of way.
- The taking must include only part of a property, as Florida does not allow recovery for a business loss if it relates to a total taking.
- The business operating on the property (including any predecessor business) must have been established five years prior to the date of the taking.Under Florida law, a business owner is limited to 180 days to file its business damage claim after receiving notice from the government. Assembling and analyzing important financial information obtained over several years, along with licenses and permits, and modifying leases and the like is a complex task and can require the hiring of a CPA, engineer, planner, contractor or other experts.Therefore, it’s important that the case be handled by an experienced attorney who heads a team of experts. A property owner whose property is subject to a taking should hire a law firm that is knowledgeable, experienced and has established a reputation with the condemning authority. It is also important that a property owner be prepared in advance of a taking to ensure they obtain full compensation to which they are entitled. This would include property subdivision, zoning changes, site development permits, restructuring leases, and obtaining and/or renewing licenses. Unlike many eminent domain law firms, our firm has extensive land use, environmental and administrative law expertise. That’s important when dealing with regulatory issues that can affect property valuation, impacts to the remaining property, and the ultimate compensation received by the client, be it an owner, tenant, billboard company or business.Our firm also represents clients whose land values have been burdened by governmental actions, through the Bert J. Harris, Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, set forth at Section 70.001, Florida Statutes. Our firm also represents clients seeking relief from local governments’ denial of a development order utilizing the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act, which is set forth at Section 70.51, Florida Statutes.