You should try to find a lawyer who knows about eminent domain and who is sympathetic to the plight of property owners. One good source is Owners’ Counsel of America, an association of lawyers that specialize in eminent domain and regularly represent owners in condemnation cases. There is usually one member per state, so if the lawyer for your state has a conflict or is not geographically close enough, he or she may be able to refer you to someone else. You can also look on Martindale Hubbell or FindLaw for lawyers in your area who specialize in eminent domain, but when you talk to them, make sure they have represented owners as well as condemning agencies. Always make sure the lawyer you contact does not represent the government or the developer before you give information about your case. However you find the lawyer, the most important thing is to make sure you and the lawyer communicate well and have the same goals. Be sure to get any fee agreement in writing.
Even if you are not ready to hire a lawyer for the long term, you can arrange to have a consultation to find out basic information. If other neighbors are involved in the proposed project, you can split the legal fee, which will cut the cost and make legal advice more accessible.
The following is a list of some information that would be helpful for almost everyone to know. It is not an exhaustive list of what you should discuss with your lawyer—just some basic questions you will need answers to, whether from a lawyer or from someone else.
Questions to Ask Your Lawyer
- What is the current procedural status of this project?
- Has my property been designated as part of a redevelopment project?
- Has my property been designated as blighted?
- Is there any way to contest the designation of my property as blighted (or other legal designation that allows eminent domain)?
- If so, how would I do that and when?
- How would I go about contesting the condemnation of my property? What is the legal procedure?
- Will there be further hearings on the project or condemnation?
- When will the hearings be and what agencies will hold them?
- Will I have an opportunity to speak?
- Do I have to speak in order to preserve my rights later?
- Can I submit written objections or evidence to government agencies and how?
- What is a timeline of every hearing, report, and notice that will come out before my property is condemned?
- At which steps do I have an opportunity to object to the project or the condemnation?
- When can I expect that a condemnation action may be filed?
- How long will I have to respond after that?
- How does compensation work in my state?
- What will I be compensated for? How much are relocation expenses?
- What are legal fees for contesting a condemnation?
- What are legal fees for securing additional compensation for a condemnation?