Chapter 32 of the Wisconsin Statutes lists the entities entitled to use eminent domain powers to take private property for a public purpose. That power is used most commonly, but not exclusively, for road and utility projects. Those whose property may be taken by eminent domain can challenge the condemnor’s right to take their property, although the procedures differ between transportation and utility projects. More often, property owners contest the amount paid for the property taken.
Both the United States and Wisconsin Constitutions require that “just compensation” be paid for private property taken by the exercise of eminent domain power. The process of determining just compensation in both transportation and utility takings begins with a negotiation phase commencing after the condemnor provides the owner with an appraisal of the property’s fair market value, coupled with notice that the owner may obtain a separate appraisal within 60 days, at the condemnor’s expense. The condemnor is then required to negotiate the purchase of the property to be taken. If negotiations fail, the condemnor then issues a written jurisdictional offer to buy the property or easement at issue for a stated sum. Upon receipt of the jurisdictional offer, the property owner may elect to accept the offer and sign the deed or easement conveying transfer of the property. Alternatively, the owner may reject the offer or do nothing, in which case the condemnor will proceed to take the property through different means, based on whether it is a utility taking or a taking for a road construction project.
Property owners unfamiliar with eminent domain procedures may be wise to consult an independent appraiser and an attorney once negotiations for the purchase of their property commence, if not sooner. In transportation takings, an owner may accept a jurisdictional offer and still challenge the amount paid for the property, but the time period for doing so is less----only six months----than the two year period allowed if the owner rejects the offer. Written offers extended by utility companies often include additional payments for waiving the right to challenge the amount paid for the easement. The development of a reasoned negotiation strategy, coupled with a plan for when and where to obtain an independent appraisal of the value of the property taken, should help guide the owner through the process of obtaining what the state and federal constitutions mandate: just compensation for the loss of their land.