FAQs About the NYS Eminent Domain Procedure Law
Q: What is 'eminent domain'?
A: It is another word for condemnation - the right of the government to take private property for a public purpose. Various examples would be to make way for a road or public park, or to provide housing for disadvantaged persons. The United States and New York Constitutions require the government to pay you fair compensation if it takes your property.
Q: How does the government decide what property is needed for a project?
A: The acquisition of property required for a public improvement occurs after an extensive and thorough engineering process that includes a series of planning and design phases which lead to a determination that the property is necessary in order to construct the public improvement. Prior to acquisition, the condemnor must conduct a public hearing at a location reasonably close to the property which may be acquired for the project, in order to inform the public and to review the public use to be served by the proposed public project and the impact on the environment and residents of the locality where such project will be constructed. If you are an affected property owner, you will be served with advance notice of this hearing. At the hearing, the condemnor shall outline the purpose, proposed location or alternate locations of the public project and any other information it considers pertinent, including maps and descriptions of the property to be acquired. You will be given a reasonable opportunity to present your own oral or written statements and/or documents. Within 90 days after the conclusion of the public hearing, the condemnor must make its determination and findings of fact on the proposed public project and publish a brief synopsis of such in the local newspaper, as well as serve a copy of the synopsis on each affected property owner. Upon request, the full determination and findings must be forwarded to an affected property owner at no cost.
Q: If my property is being acquired how will I know?
A: Probably the first person to contact you will be a representative of the local real estate office of the agency or department that needs your land who will give you preliminary information concerning the proposed acquisition.
Q: What if I don't agree that my property is necessary for this public purpose?
A: The law allows you to challenge a municipality or agency's determination that your property is necessary for a public use. An aggrieved person or affected property owner has 30 days from the condemnor's publication in the newspaper of its determination and findings in which to raise an appeal. Such petitions for appeal must be filed in the appellate division of the supreme court in the county in which the property is located, and are limited to the issues, facts and objections raised at the hearing. The supreme court's determination is limited to whether or not the hearing complied with all provisions of law, and whether or not a public use, benefit or purpose will be served by the proposed acquisition.
Q: What is fair market value or just compensation?
A: Just compensation is usually considered to be the fair market value - that is, the highest price somebody would pay for the property, were it in the hands of a willing seller. The date upon which the value is assessed will vary, depending upon the governing law. If the parties do not agree on the value, they will typically utilize appraisers to assist in the negotiation process. If the case is litigated, both sides will ordinarily present expert testimony from appraisers as to the fair market value of the property.
Q: How is just compensation determined?
A: The law requires the State to pay each property owner the fair market value which, generally, is the same amount of money that the sale of the property would bring under current market conditions. Value is determined as of the date the State acquires the property. In making its appraisal, the State examines the various features of your property, and the prices at which properties similar to yours are being sold. You will receive a summary statement showing the basis for the establishment of fair market value as developed by the appraisal and listing other benefits to which you will be entitled. The methods used in evaluating the property will be thoroughly explained by our representatives.
Q: What if I don't agree with the State's monetary offer?
A: If you or your representatives are unable to arrive at an agreement the law permits you to file a claim in the State Court of Claims. There is a time limitation for the filing of claims but you will have at least three years from the date you are personally notified that the State has acquired your property. Subsequently, a trial will be held before the Court to adjudicate your claim. You will be required to submit an appraisal to the Court, as will the State, and the Court will determine the amounts of compensable damages. The services of an attorney are usually necessary in these cases.