How Does the Eminent Domain Process Work in Washington?

The eminent domain process in Washington works differently depending on whether the federal government or a state governmental entity is involved in the property taking.  The process for challenging a property valuation can also be complicated, and if any deadlines are missed or if the appropriate filings are not made correctly, a property owner can inadvertently forfeit the right to seek additional compensation for the value of their property.

In general, the eminent domain process consists of the following:

  • The government will approve a project that requires taking private property. In some cases, such as the Sound Transit project and its extensions, the approval may be the result of a public vote or referendum.  In other cases, such as highway development, the approval may come from state or local boards vested with the power to undertake such projects.
  • Public notification is made. Public notification can come in the form of announcements of voter approval, public minutes of meetings (such as those in which specific road construction or widening has been approved), or by other means.
  • Notification is made to affected property owners. Property owners then are notified that their property is subject to being taken by the government.  In most cases involving residential property, the whole property will be proposed to be permanently taken.  In other situations, often involving large tracts of land, sometimes only part of the property will be permanently taken.  It is also possible that property may be temporarily taken – this may be the case where property is needed as a “lay-down” yard where equipment and materials may be stored.

The notification may also provide the compensation proposed to be paid for the taking, and a description of the process and the rights of the property owner to challenge the action and/or the government’s valuation of the property.  In other cases, such information may not be provided until a later date.

  • Property owners may challenge the taking or the valuation. Property owners may then challenge the government’s purpose for the taking (such as by claiming that there is no public purpose involved), or that the compensation being offered is inadequate and below fair market value.  In the case of a valuation dispute, negotiations may ensue with government representatives, and/or a trial may take place.  Because the procedures will vary depending upon the specific project, and because deadlines and proper filing are critical, property owners wishing to challenge the government’s valuation should always hire a lawyer to protect their rights.
  • Resolution. Property valuation will be resolved – either through an agreement between the property owner and the government, or through trial.  If the property owner refuses to sell, there is process by which the government can initiate court action to secure the property; usually for a price determined by an independent appraisal.  This last option is highly risky, as property owners give up all control over establishing a price, and there is the possibility that the appraiser could find that they property is worth less than that offered by the government.

Don’t Go It Alone

As an eminent domain law firm, we are currently representing hundreds of property owners seeking full value for their land.  If you retain us, there is no fee for us unless we are able to get you more money than what the government is offering you – there is no contingent fee due on the amount that the government has offered.  For more information about fees, please see how are eminent domain lawyers compensated?

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