Condemnation is the term for the legal process instituted by an acquiring entity for the purpose of obtaining the real property rights necessary for a public improvement project.
Condemnation is a function of the legal principle of eminent domain, which provides government the right to acquire private property rights needed for public improvements. As a result, a state (and related entities such as cities, counties, local government entities and utility companies) potentially has the authority to condemn land. The question of authority, however, should not be assumed and requires close examination.
Generally, condemning entities are required by law to negotiate a purchase prior to resorting to the legal process to obtain real property rights. Usually this is accomplished by the acquiring entity obtaining an appraisal to determine possible land value. Next, a land acquisition agent (either working directly for the acquiring entity or for a subcontractor) will make contact with the landowner to explain the project, the real property rights needed and the offer.
Most often the acquiring entity will negotiate in an attempt to reach a compromise value for the real property rights needed for the project. Acquiring entities are not, however, generally required to negotiate and have satisfied their legal requirement once the appraised value has been extended.
If the project for which your real property rights are needed goes forward, you may receive a condemnation petition. Generally, you will be served with summons and process by a deputy sheriff who will file a document indicating when you received the documents.
At this stage, it is of the utmost importance that you seek the advice of an experienced eminent domain attorney. Service of process triggers the running of very important time limits and your rights may be lost if not protected very quickly!