Missouri Eminent Domain Law
Property Owner's Guide To Eminent Domain
If you are faced with losing your property or business to eminent domain, you should know your rights. This guide is designed to give you a general understanding of Missouri's eminent domain law and procedures.
This guide contains information about general eminent domain issues. It does not constitute legal advice on a particular situation, and may not be relied upon for that purpose. It is not a substitute for hiring an experienced lawyer to protect your rights. Laws and the application of the law can change at any time.
General Eminent Domain Concepts
What is "eminent domain"? Eminent domain is also known as condemnation. It is the process in which the government or utility has the legal power to acquire private property for a public use.
What is the difference between "eminent domain" and "condemnation"? None. Eminent domain and condemnation mean the same thing. However, the term "condemnation" is also used to describe the situation where a building is unsafe and the local government needs to demolish it for safety reasons.
Who can use eminent domain powers? The "condemning agency" is the public or private entity having the legal power of eminent domain. In tax increment financing projects, the private developer borrows the government's name in undertaking condemnation.
Are there limits to the use of eminent domain? Yes. Under the Missouri and the U.S. Constitutions, private property may be condemned so long as the taking is for a public purpose and the property owner is paid just compensation.
What qualifies as a "public purpose"? The phrase "public purpose" is given broad meaning under the law. A public purpose is required before eminent domain can be used.Traditional public purposes include parks, roads, bridges, schools, and utilities. However, the public purpose concept has been expanded to include private commercial uses that are intended to remove blight. This expanded meaning of public purpose has been controversial.
What does "just compensation" mean? "Just compensation" is designed to indemnify the property owner for his or her losses. This is often done by paying the "fair market value" for the value taken. If only a portion of the property is acquired, the owner may also be entitled to consequential damages to the property that remains. The owner has the right to be paid for the "highest and best use of the property," as opposed to the existing use. If the business is closely intertwined with the location, business damages may also be awarded.
What is "heritage value"? Heritage value allows for a 50% bonus to be paid to the property owner. Property condemned which has been in the same family for more than 50 years will receive an additional 50% over the fair market value of the property. The 50% bonus is always awarded when the entire property is taken and may be given when only part of the property is condemned, depending upon the circumstances of the taking. See Missouri statute, Section 523.001.
What is "homestead value"? Homestead value allows for a 25% bonus to be paid to the property owner. When a primary residence is condemned, the owner will receive an additional 25%. In partial takings, this only applies when the taking is within 300' of the residence and the owner shows that the taking prevents the owner from substantially utilizing the property. An owner cannot apply for both Homestead Value and Heritage Value. See Missouri statute, Section 523.001.
The Legal Process in Missouri
What is the first step in the condemnation process? Often, property owners will be aware for years that their property is threatened with eminent domain. However the first legal step to start the condemnation process is a "notice of acquisition" sent by the government agency to the property owner at least 60 days before filing a condemnation with the court. This notice informs the property owners that they are targeted by a project and lists their various rights under the law.
How do I find out what the government wants to pay for my property? At least 30 days before initiating a court case, the government (condemnor) must make a formal written offer to purchase the property to be condemned. The offer should include a copy of an appraisal or similar information to inform the property owner how the offer was determined.
What happens if I feel the offer for my property is too low? If a property owner does not want to accept the offer for their property, he or she can reject it. Thereafter, the government will file a petition with the court asking the judge to appoint three individuals from the county, called commissioners, to decide the compensation due the property. Commissioners could range from farmers to real estate brokers, lawyers to housewives, or simply anyone who resides in the county where the condemnation is taking place.
How do court proceedings get started to take my property? If the government and property owner cannot agree to a price, then the government will file a petition with the court seeking permission to condemn the property. The owner will be served with a summons, which is a notice of the legal action.
When do I challenge the government's right to condemn? The first event in a condemnation case is when the judge holds a condemnation hearing. This is the time when a property owner may challenge the government's right to condemn. After the hearing, the judge approves or rejects the government's right to condemn. If the judge approves the condemnation, he will then appoint three individuals from the county, called commissioners, to inspect the property, conduct an informal hearing, and decide your compensation.
Who determines how much I'm paid for my property? At or soon after the condemnation hearing, the judge appoints three commissioners to determine the owner's compensation. After notifying all of the parties, including the owners, the commissioners conduct a hearing to determine the amount of compensation. The hearing includes a viewing of the property by the commissioners and an opportunity to let the government and the property owner present evidence of value. Within 45 days of their appointment, the commissioners notify the judge of their decision.
When do I get paid for my property? In most cases, the government (condemnor) pays into court the compensation determined by the commissioners within 30 days. In some cases, the government waits until after a jury trial to pay compensation or simply abandons the eminent domain proceedings.
When do I lose legal title to the property being condemned? When the government or utility company pays the amount awarded by the commissioners, it takes title to the property.
If I am a tenant, do I have any rights to compensation? If a tenant is involved, the Commissioners' Award might be divided between the landlord and tenant. In order to receive any compensation, the tenant must have a compensable interest in the eminent domain monies, such as leasehold interest. If necessary, a hearing is conducted before a judge to decide how much of the compensation should go the landlord and tenant.
Do I have a right to a jury? Yes. If the parties agree to the amount of the Commissioners' Award, the case may be settled. Otherwise, either side may file a request for a jury trial. If the case does not settle, a jury trial is held to determine the amount of compensation. The jury is not told of the commissioner's decision.
Who pays for my moving expenses? In most cases, the owner or tenants are entitled to relocation benefits and services from the condemning authority. This is separate from the amount paid for the property. The relocation benefits can range from monies to move, monies for loss of business, monies to reestablish the business at a new location, and assistance to locate a new place for a home or business.