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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: August 29, 2019 09:13 AM
From: Representative Garth D. Everett
To: All House members
Subject: PennDOT Taking Properties by Condemnation
I was recently contacted by a constituent who is an attorney. He has had several cases involving PennDOT taking properties by condemnation as part of a highway expansion project. He explained how a well-intentioned part of Pennsylvania law concerning eminent domain can deprive landowners of their property without fair compensation. I hope you will join me in sponsoring legislation to correct this problem.

Right now, if the government takes land for public use, the government must pay fair value to the landowner for the property taken. Many times, the fair valuation of a property can be in dispute. We have a good process in place where the government and the private landowner can have these disagreements resolved by a board of view with an appeal process to the courts.

However, the current law provides that a property owner is only provided with up to $4,000 for appraisal and attorney fees in this legal process. As a former attorney who has done a few of these cases, I can tell you that a property owner will burn through $4,000 in fees just preparing for the board of view let alone the cost of paying expert witness and attorney fees at the hearing. An appeal to court can make it prohibitively expensive. As a result, if a property is undervalued by the governmental entity taking the property, a landowner can end up spending more money proving his case than he ever can actually collect in obtaining the true value for the property taken.

In my opinion and that of my constituent, this leads to governmental agencies making “lowball” offers to property owners knowing that the property owner cannot afford to pursue his legal recourse.

I think this is unfair and propose a modest change to the statute which will allow landowners to fairly pursue their cases. Instead of applying a hard cap of $4,000, I propose that the landowner be entitled to collect his reasonable attorney and expert fees so long as they do not exceed 10% of the total compensation awarded. The reasonable fees will be determined by the finder of fact (judge). The 10% cap and judicial determination of what is reasonable will prevent a runaway award of unreasonable fees but will also allow landowners to receive fair compensation for their property.

Please consider joining me in co-sponsoring this important legislation. Contact Chanin Zwing with any questions at 787-5270 or via e-mail at czwing@pahousegop.com.

Introduced as HB2087