The legal process of “eminent domain,” also called condemnation, gives public agencies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the right to force private land owners to sell their land to the agency, if the land will be used to serve a valid public purpose. Eminent domain proceedings are subject to the due process clauses of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States Constitution, Title 26 of the Pennsylvania Statutes and the provisions of the specific legislation that authorizes the agency to acquire the land.
An eminent domain proceeding begins when the acquiring agency, called the condemnor, files a notice with the office of the prothonotary in the county, where the land is located and gives notice to the landowner (the “condemnee”) stating its intention to acquire the land, identifying the authorizing statute, the name of the owner and other information specified by the statute. The landowner then has 30 days to object to the cited legal authority for the taking, the sufficiency of any security posted by the acquiring agency and the declaration of taking.
If the landowner does not object to the pending condemnation, or if the court overrules the landowner’s objections, the court will appoint a panel of viewers who are charged with fixing the fair market value of the land, i.e., the price to be paid by the condemnor. The condemnor and the condemnee will often negotiate and agree upon the price, thereby obviating the job of the viewers. If the condemnor and condemnee cannot agree on a price and other terms of the sale, the viewers will conduct a hearing in which both the condemnor and the condemnee can present evidence supporting their respective claims of value. The viewers will determine the fair market value of the land, so that the owner will receive just compensation for it as required by state and federal constitutions.
This brief summary does not begin to identify the numerous complexities that can arise in an eminent domain proceeding. The validity of the taking itself, i.e., whether the condemnor is acting to effect a valid public interest, can become a very complex issue. The kinds of evidence that can be used to prove value range from the owner’s own opinion to the sophisticated analyses of professional appraisers. Anyone whose land is subject to a condemnation or likely to become a subject for condemnation should consult a real estate lawyer who is experienced in handling such cases for advice on procedural issues and the best methods of proving a high value for the land.
Source: PA.us “Statutes of Pennsylvania, Title 26, Eminent Domain,” accessed on April 4, 2015