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Severance damages in Pennsylvania

Most property owners in Pennsylvania understand that the state has the power to force them to sell their land to it so long as they receive "just compensation." But what happens when the state (or any other entity with the power of eminent domain) wants to condemn only a portion of an owner's property? What happens, say, if the portion taken by the state leaves the remaining portion without access to a public street? Or what happens if the remaining portion is too small or so irregularly shaped that it has little or no remaining profitable use? Can an owner recover just compensation for these adverse impacts?

The answer is yes, and the legal doctrine is called "severance damages." Whenever the condemning authority takes less than the complete parcel, the owner is entitled to recover any diminution in the value of the remaining parcel attributable to the taking itself. Generally speaking, severance damages are proved in much the same way as direct damages: the before and after value of the property is determined by the testimony of real estate appraisers.

Occasionally, the value of the remaining parcel is enhanced by the taking. This increase in value is called a "special benefit." The Pennsylvania eminent domain code requires that any special benefit to the remaining parcel be deducted from any overall reduction in fair market value. Under no circumstances can a special benefit exceed the total damages awarded to the landowner. This provision prevents the condemning authority to require the land owner to pay for a special benefit.

Anyone whose property is or may be subject to condemnation will find the services of an experienced eminent domain lawyer to be very helpful. A knowledgeable real estate attorney who specializes in real estate litigation can provide advice on the legality of the proposed condemnation and can suggest strategies to obtain the maximum award of damages.

Source: Penn. Stat. Title 26, Eminent Domain, accessed on March 6, 2016

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