What you Need to Know About Florida’s Eminent Domain Laws
According to the legal theory of eminent domain, the government can seize private property for public use in exchange for full compensation to be paid to the property owner. While the power of eminent domain is primarily held by federal, state, county, and municipal governments, Florida’s state legislature can also delegate the power to non-governmental entities, such as public utilities. Agencies like the Department of Transportation are also permitted to exercise the power of eminent domain.
The power of eminent domain can be exercised either directly or indirectly. A direct exercise requires the condemning entity to file a lawsuit, also known as an eminent domain action, against a property owner. Alternatively, an indirect exercise of eminent domain occurs when the government takes possession of a property through physical use, without first filing a lawsuit.
In Florida, the power of eminent domain is most often exercised via an eminent domain action. In bringing the action, the government must file one two types of lawsuits: a quick-take action or a slow-take action.
Quick-Take Eminent Domain Actions
A quick-take claim is the more popularly utilized type of action filed in eminent domain cases. Quick-take claims are divided into two phases. In the first phase, the government sets a date for an order of taking hearing, at which it must prove that:
- The property is necessary;
- The taking is for a public purpose; and
- It has prepared a good faith estimate of value.
Within twenty days of a judge’s entering of the order of taking, the government is required to deposit an amount equal to its good faith estimate of the value of the property into the court registry. At this point in the proceedings, the government or condemning entity has become the legal owner of the property. However, there is still a second phase to the proceedings, in which a jury made up of twelve individuals determines the amount of compensation that the original property owner should be paid.
Slow-Take Eminent Domain Actions
Slow-take eminent domain actions are used much less often than quick-take claims. In this type of action, the government takes possession of a private property for the purposes of environmental preservation by first filing a lawsuit and allowing a jury to decide the amount of compensation the other party is owed. Once the jury has come to a decision, the government officially chooses whether or not it wants to take ownership of the property. If it chooses to do so, it must deposit the amount determined by the jury into the court registry. Otherwise, the judge dismisses the suit.
Challenging an Eminent Domain Claim
In Florida, citizens have the right to challenge the government’s condemnation of their property. There are a number of arguments upon which a property owner can rely, including:
- Improper procedures: An entity attempting to take a person’s property must send a written notice that it is filing an eminent domain lawsuit. A failure to do so may lead to the claim being barred later on.
- Public use: A property owner may also argue that the government’s planned use of the property does not qualify as public use. Well-established examples of a public use include the construction of schools, highways, police stations, court houses, parks, and public buildings. If no public benefit exists, the government’s claim will be dismissed.
- Full compensation: Florida’s constitution guarantees a property owner’s right to full compensation in the event that the government condemns his or her property. Seeking the advice of qualified experts who can provide their own estimate will ensure that property owners receive the full value of their property.
If you have questions regarding how to best protect your own property from being condemned, please contact a real estate litigation attorney at the Silver Law Group for an initial consultation.