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What does a Condemnation Lawyer do?

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  • Written By: Felipe McGuire
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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A condemnation lawyer is a lawyer who represents parties in condemnation cases. Generally, this means representing a private citizen against a government that is seeking to take possession of that citizen's land through eminent domain or a similar governmental power. A condemnation lawyer may help citizens who are seeking to prevent the taking, seeking more money from the taking, or seeking to take the property back from the government after a wrongful taking.

Condemnation is a specific aspect of the law of eminent domain. Eminent domain is sometimes called compulsory purchase, compulsory acquisition, or appropriation in countries other than the United States (US). It is the law under which a government may, without permission, take possession of or otherwise limit a citizen’s interest in his or her private property. The term "condemnation" in this context refers to the formal act of transferring property rights to the government in question.

While condemnation and eminent domain by its many different names function differently around the world, most governments retain some level of right to deprive citizens of their property. In most developed nations, that right can only be used in the service of some public good, often related to utilities, transportation, public parks, or something similar. Further, most modern governments are required to pay fair market value (FMV) for property taken, or condemned, in this manner.

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A condemnation lawyer might be better termed an eminent domain lawyer. In many places around the world, he or she may be referred to with similar terms, such as an appropriations attorney. While the term condemnation lawyer might reasonably apply to lawyers working for a government on condemnation cases, it is more frequently used to describe a private attorney who represents citizens against the government in such cases.

Condemnation lawyers are likely to represent citizens in three primary circumstances. Often, a condemnation lawyer will be trying to help a citizen prevent the condemnation or taking of property by the government. Usually, this means arguing that the government's proposed purpose is not appropriate for an invocation of eminent domain. It is also quite common for a condemnation lawyer to focus on seeking greater compensation for the citizen by arguing a greater FMV for the property or interest at issue.

Less often, a condemnation lawyer will represent a citizen in what is called an inverse condemnation action. In such an action, a citizen whose property has already been condemned files suit against the relevant government to have the property returned. This is usually based on a theory that the original condemnation was improperly supported by public need or insufficiently compensated below FMV.

It is worth noting that the term "property" usually refers to land or real property, but may also refer to personal property, such as a car or hammer. Also, this term can even reference intellectual property. It is also worth noting that the term "condemnation" as used here is different from the term used to describe the closing of a structure or property due to safety concerns. The latter would more likely be handled by a real estate lawyer than by a condemnation lawyer.

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