For decades, Gunster has been dedicated to providing legal counsel to clients seeking to protect their property and land use rights. Our attorneys handle a broad range of property rights matters, including direct condemnations involving the government’s exercise of the power of eminent domain, illegal development exactions that a local government seeks to place on an owner as a condition of a development approval, challenges to adverse land use and zoning decisions, inverse condemnations, regulatory takings, inordinate burdens as defined by the Bert J. Harris, Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, and land use related civil rights violations. The firm is also devoted to pursuing prompt resolution of land use barriers whenever possible for our clients, including the processing of claims under the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act. Whether our client is an individual property owner, corporation, developer, lender, business owner, buyer, seller, commercial landlord or tenant, Gunster attorneys have long been committed to preserving their real estate interests and property rights.
Gunster represents clients in a host of eminent domain, inverse condemnation, regulatory takings and property rights matters. Our attorneys strive to provide the legal knowledge, creativity and practical experience needed to advocate our clients’ rights in these proceedings, in an effort to seek a fair and equitable result for the owner. Gunster’s legal team includes a former commercial real estate appraiser and consultant; former chairs of the Florida Bar and American Bar Association’s eminent domain committees; a trustee of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law organization that excels in property rights advocacy; authors of multiple chapters of the Florida Bar treatise on eminent domain law; and two 2019 Florida Trend Legal Elite “Hall of Fame” members in the field of eminent domain and property rights. Gunster attorneys have years of experience dealing with the host of public agencies that can acquire property and property rights through eminent domain, including the Florida Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, cities, counties, water management districts and school boards.
Gunster’s Eminent Domain and Property Rights team seeks to represent clients at every stage of a condemnation proceeding. This experience includes initial pre-condemnation planning, preliminary negotiations for the acquisition of property, order of taking proceedings, ultimate determination of full compensation, and during the appellate process if necessary. Working from the firm’s statewide platform, Gunster lawyers have represented clients in condemnation proceedings around the state involving the acquisition of land by the government for a variety of uses, including highways and bridges, schools, retention ponds, airports, environmental restoration, economic redevelopment, water and sanitation facilities, industrial facilities, as well as large open space or park initiatives.
When appropriate, Gunster lawyers will work with the client to challenge the government’s right to take the property sought through condemnation. There are occasions where Gunster attorneys have challenged the government’s authority to take private property. In some instances, our attorneys have argued that the taking did not constitute a valid public use; on other occasions, that the government is taking a greater interest or amount of property than is reasonably necessary.
When there is reasonable necessity and public purpose for a taking, the United States and Florida Constitutions require that the owner be compensated. Full compensation as required by the Florida Constitution is generally described as the amount of money needed to put the owner in as good a position as he or she would have been in, but for the taking. Because it would violate the constitutional requirement of full compensation, Florida governmental entities cannot require the owner to use part of their recovery for the payment of attorney’s fees and costs. Florida law requires that the condemning authority pay the property owner’s attorneys’ fees in the manner provided by statute, as well as reasonable expert fees and court costs. These amounts are separate from and in addition to the compensation the owner receives for the land taken, any damages to remainder property, and any other compensable damages resulting from the taking.
Where the taking is allowed by the court, Gunster attorneys strive to protect the owner’s right to receive constitutionally required compensation. While the government has the authority to initiate a condemnation proceeding, the Florida Constitution guarantees that a real property owner is entitled to receive full compensation for the taking. In addition, Florida law provides protection to business owners in certain circumstances. Many times, property and business owners assume a government offer is equitable — but this can prove to be a costly assumption. Gunster attorneys have decades of experience working with clients seeking to establish claims of full compensation, whether for the land taken, severance damages to any remaining property, damages to businesses, the loss of trade fixtures, or other special damages.
Gunster attorneys have represented numerous clients in inverse condemnation matters. Inverse condemnation occurs when the government takes an owner’s property or property rights without initiating a condemnation action. An inverse condemnation can involve a physical invasion of the owner’s property. In addition, an inverse condemnation can involve the imposition of regulations that cross the constitutional line. Gunster attorneys advise clients involved in inverse condemnation matters regarding strategy and negotiation with the governmental entity, all with the goal of assisting the clients in seeking a fair and just result for the loss of their property or property rights.
Not all takings involve direct condemnation; at times, the governmental action constitutes a regulatory taking. A regulatory taking can occur when the government imposes such limiting restrictions on an owner’s property or use of the property that the governmental action amounts to a compensable taking. Regulatory taking cases are often more complicated than the direct condemnation process because they do not begin with the acknowledgment that the government has taken something for which full compensation is due. In regulatory taking cases, often the focus is on the economic impact to the property, the impact on the owner’s reasonable investment-backed expectations, and the character of the governmental action. In short, Gunster’s attorneys stand ready to assist owners when the government has overstepped the constitutional bounds that protect an owner’s property and property rights.