The Rights of Wisconsin Landowners
Your right to be fairly compensated for property taken by the government (or utility companies) is one of the most fundamental protections afforded under the United States Constitution. Just like the freedom of speech or freedom of religion, the Fifth Amendment to receive 'just compensation' for the taking of your property a constitutional right. You are entitled to what your land is worth, nothing more, nothing less.
However, Wisconsin eminent domain law can be somewhat confusing. It is a technical process with numerous deadlines and statutory requirements. If you are not familiar with the process and laws it can be overwhelming. In an effort to simplify things as much as possible, we have broken the eminent domain process down into five phases.
The Five Phases of Wisconsin Eminent Domain Law
1. Preliminary Research. The government, government agency or other entity with eminent domain power such as a utility company (the “acquiring authority”) identifies the need for a project which will affect private property. The acquiring authority must research the impact the project will have on the land, determine what land it will need and identify the landowners who will be affected.
2. Negotiations. The acquiring authority will then contact the landowners who will be affected by the project. The acquiring authority will prepare an appraisal and provide a copy to the landowner. The landowner then has an opportunity to have their own appraisal prepared. The acquiring authority must then negotiate with the landowner and try to work out an agreement.
3. The Taking. If an agreement cannot be worked out, the condemnor has the right to simply take the landowner’s property and must pay the landowner what it determined to be the fair market value. A document will be recorded with the register of deeds office to complete the exchange of ownership and the landowner will be paid.
4. Opportunity to Appeal. The landowner then has the opportunity to appeal the amount of compensation they were paid. Even if the landowner voluntarily sold their property, they may have 6 months from the date the document was recorded to appeal the amount of compensation. If the property was “taken” the landowner may have up to two years to appeal.
5. Appeal Procedure. The appeal must be filed within this timeframe in the circuit court for the county where the property is located. A judge or jury will determine how much the property is worth. However, a majority of cases are settled between the parties out of court prior to a trial. Commonly, the acquiring authority will have to pay the costs and attorney’s fees of the landowner. Each side may appeal to the court of appeals and even the supreme court.
This is a generalized "bare-bones" overview of the Wisconsin eminent domain process. The actual law is very complex and technical. This overview is designed to help familiarize the typical Wisconsin landowner--who has not come into contact with the eminent domain process before--with eminent domain laws and procedures.
Please feel free to call (608) 807-1829 for a free consultation. During the consultation, we can discuss the eminent domain process and explain different things you should be thinking about if you find yourself involved in an eminent domain dispute.