In Colorado, eminent domain (also known as condemnation) proceedings take place in several stages. These proceedings are similar to, but not the same as, other civil trials. Most attorneys — let alone property owners — do not have experience with the special statutory procedures that apply in eminent domain cases. Here is a simplified introduction to the stages of an eminent domain or condemnation proceeding on Colorado. For more information on what to do when facing a government taking and how to protect your rights, read our alert.
What Happens in an Eminent Domain or Condemnation Proceeding?
Colorado eminent domain (or condemnation) proceedings take place in four phases, as displayed in the flowchart below. Understanding the basic actions that take place in each phase is crucial to navigating the eminent domain process.
The Notice of Intent Phase
Colorado eminent domain proceedings typically begin by a condemning authority sending a Notice of Intent to owners of a property that it is seeking to take. The government or private company will likely contact you and make one or more offers to pay for the property it wants. You may receive several letters, sometimes called “notice of intent to acquire,” an “initial offer letter” and/or a “final offer.”
The Appraisals and Negotiations Phase
Once you receive a Notice of Intent, it’s wise to hire an experienced eminent domain appraiser to determine the value of your property. Getting your own appraisal can help in negotiating with the government.
If negotiations don’t work, the condemning authority will make a final offer, which you may choose to accept. If you don’t, the condemning authority will likely file a petition in court to acquire the property called a “Petition in Condemnation.”
The Immediate Possession Phase
Once the government files its Petition in Condemnation, the first step relates to possession, or transferring title to your property or a portion of your property, whatever the case may be. This can happen either at an Immediate Possession Hearing or via an agreement between you and the condemning authority (typically called a “stipulation”). If you go to an Immediate Possession Hearing, a court evaluates whether the government or private company has authority to condemn your property.
If the condemning authority obtains immediate possession, either at a hearing or through an agreement with the landowner, the condemning authority can start using your property and constructing its project. At the same time, the government will pay a deposit to the court for safekeeping, and the landowner can usually withdraw some or all of the deposit. As long as the ultimate court award is more than the deposit, the landowner can keep it.
The Valuation Phase
The last step is to determine the fair market value of your property. You are entitled to request a jury. Otherwise, the value of your property will be determined by a commission or by the parties’ agreement. Typically, both sides will present expert witnesses, usually appraisers, who will give opinions about the value of your property. You can present arguments and evidence regarding the amount of just compensation you should receive. Eminent domain or condemnation proceedings have their own timelines and procedures, so they are not like other lawsuits. Having an experienced eminent domain attorney can make sure you are fairly represented throughout the entire condemnation process