Your Rights When It Comes to Eminent Domain

Did you know that a government entity can acquire your home and the property it sits on for what it deems to be a public purpose?

With that said, keep in mind that you also have rights when a city, county, or utility decides to exercise its option of eminent domain.

What are your rights as a citizen, an entity, a business, or a tenant? What if you are losing parking spaces, access, landscaping, or timber? What effect will the project have on the market value of your property? Are the project plans finalized? Can you request changes? When will construction start, and can you stop the government from moving forward with the project altogether?

"We answer questions like this every day for commercial, residential, and agricultural property owners all over South Carolina," say both Abigail B. Walsh and Christopher Murphy of the Charleston law firm of Williams & Walsh, LLC. "The bottom line is that the government can take your property through the power of eminent domain. However, under the federal and state constitutions, the power of the government to take your property is restricted to specific circumstances, and you are entitled to just compensation."

The government can acquire property for a project such as building or widening a road, constructing a railway, expanding an intersection, installing utilities, or building a seawall. Such projects require extensive planning, design, engineering, and funding. They are almost always years in the making before the government contacts property owners about acquiring their property.

"The government is required to pay you fair market value, an often-misunderstood term, for the land acquired and for any damages to the market value of your property," says Walsh. "Property owners have the right to dispute the government's assessment of how taking the property and the project as a whole have negatively impacted the value of their property."

Condemnation is the process by which the government uses its power to take property.

"Condemnation is a forced sale of property," Walsh explains. "The government can either negotiate a sale to avoid going to court or file a notice of condemnation with the court if an agreement cannot be reached. A property owner, meanwhile, can refuse the government's offer. Too many property owners settle with the government instead of going to court and later discover they lost a lot more value than expected - but, by that time, it's too late. Property owners only get one opportunity to maximize just compensation."

Walsh points out that there is an upside to letting the government file a condemnation: It gives the property owner an arsenal of legal means to gain access to information about the project, to challenge the government's basis for its offer, to explore all effects the project has on the property, to determine the cost of restoring any damages caused to the property, to negotiate changes to the project plans, and to engage experts such as appraisers, engineers, and land planners.

Placing an accurate value on the property is important. Walsh points out, "To maximize compensation, you must understand all the details of the property before you can decide the most advantageous way to value the property. A lot of factors impact the negotiations. We often use a team of experts to get to the right numbers."

"You should not fear litigating condemnation actions," she adds. "The government might be taking away all or some of the inheritance of your children and grandchildren, an investment, the potential for future sales or forcing a business or homeowner to relocate. Property owners should not bear the burden for a benefit to the general public. That's why it is important to maximize the just compensation."

"The first thing to do is know your rights. At Williams & Walsh, we exist because there's a difference of opinion and the compensation we have obtained for our clients speak volumes," she says.

Learn what your rights are by contacting Williams & Walsh at 843-722-0157. To learn more, visit