By Michael P. Bain
If the government wants your property for a road or some other public project, you will usually be approached first by a negotiator. If you are unable to get the price you want from a negotiator, your next step, in many instances, is an administrative review. This "review" procedure is offered by the Georgia Department of Transportation, as well as many counties and municipalities, who view it as a last chance to reach an agreement before filing a lawsuit. The person whose property is sought by the government will usually receive a letter advising that you have ten days to ask for a review. The letter will request that the recipient provide the condemning authority with the lowest amount you are willing to accept to sell your property or rights, and will ask for support of these contentions. Once a timely response is sent, follow-up communication from an administrative review officer is usually sent to set up a time to discuss the property.
Prior to the administrative review conference, the government usually has already determined the price ceiling at which it will stop negotiating. Because the condemning authority has known about and planned for the acquisition of the property for months or even years, it has had a chance to speak with engineers and appraisers about the property and the project for which it will be acquired. The engineers and appraisers hired by the government, however, will frequently overlook or ignore key pieces of information that will impact the government's opinion of value. The administrative appeal process is a chance to present new information to the condemning authority, including facts about the property and recent property sales in the area, that may prompt the government to revisit its offer.
In an administrative review conference, most landowners have not yet hired an expert appraisal to guide their position, so preparation is important. Landowners should ensure that they have gathered all of the necessary plans related to the project from the negotiator, and before an administrative appeal, it is wise to take time to study the plans and property. The government and its team of experts often will not know your property like the landowner does. For instance, a landowner may find that the plans show that construction will impact a septic drain field. The government's engineers or appraiser may fail to think about how the project will impact customers' access and use of the property. The government's appraiser may not even know how many parking spaces the property has or needs in order to continue doing business. Make notes of items overlooked in the plans so that these points may be discussed with the administrative review officer.
It is always important to get a good idea of value for the property. Look for recent sales and listings of similar property in the area. Real estate websites (Zillow, Trulia, etc.) or the county tax assessor's website are helpful in this regard. If the government's project will remove trees and tear out landscaping, or will damage or destroy a sign, try to get estimates to repair or replace those items prior to the administrative review conference so that this information may be shared with the administrative review officer.
A little due diligence will help with the navigation of the administrative review process. Keep in mind that it is never required to settle with the government or any utility that comes knocking, just because it threatens a lawsuit. Every landowner has the right to reject the government's offer, especially if it is wrong or unfair. If the government has threatened you or your property with a lawsuit, or you have received an administrative review letter, or you just want help negotiating with the government over your property, Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP is here to provide assistance.
Michael Bain is an attorney at Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP and assists individuals and businesses in a range of legal matters affecting business, insurance, and real estate. He graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law and has practiced in metro Atlanta for his entire career.