The short answer to that question is generally, “yes.” Provisions of the Constitutions of the United States and of the state of North Carolina provide that under certain circumstances, private property may be taken for a public purpose and use, but only when the property owner is paid just compensation (damages) for the property taken or for damages to the remaining property. The legal proceedings to take private property for public purposes are known as eminent domain or condemnation. Private property may be taken in a condemnation proceeding by the Department of Transportation, cities and towns, counties, public utilities and some other public bodies and certain private corporations. As the Cape Fear region has grown, and as it continues to grow, the most frequent uses of condemnation proceedings involve road-widening projects and utility expansions and extensions.
As a general rule, the condemning body (known as the condemnor) has a right to enter on to private property for such purposes as surveying and appraising the property to be taken and conducting engineering testing. After study and a decision of the property to be taken by the condemnor, the property owner can expect to be contacted by a representative of the condemnor with a payment offer that the condemnor believes is just compensation for the damages caused by the taking.
If the property owner rejects the payment offer, the condemnor can, and will, file a lawsuit condemning the property (that is, taking title to the property despite the owner’s rejection of the payment offered). The lawsuit will proceed through the litigation process and be resolved either through settlement negotiations (including mediation) or a jury trial to determine the amount of just compensation.
In addition to payment for damages or just compensation, the property owner may be entitled to receive relocation assistance. An owner who is displaced, whether a residence or a business, may be eligible for moving expenses, replacement housing payment, a rent supplement or a down payment supplement. The specific amounts or types of relocation assistance depend on the particular property being taken.
The property owner whose property is being condemned is faced with a number of important decisions. An attorney experienced in representing property owners in condemnation proceedings can help answer those questions and represent the property owner in negotiations, whether before or after any lawsuit is filed, and in litigation through a jury trial if that is required to determine the appropriate amount of just compensation.