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Fighting Chance

When the government wants your land, prepare to fight for fair payment.

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This story appears in the November 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In the U.S. Constitution, the right to ranks right upthere with life and liberty. The may not deprive peopleof life, liberty or property without due process of law. However,the law also recognizes a legal concept called "eminentdomain," which is the right of federal, state and localgovernments to take private property when it's needed for apublic purpose. If a government agency decides to widen a road orbuild a fire station and needs the property your is on,there's not much you can do to stop it. With a well-organizedstrategy and many hours of negotiation, however, you may be able tohave the project altered enough to save your business. If not, theagency must pay you for the property. The key question, then, ishow much?

The government's goal is to acquire the land for the lowestpossible cost. That means paying an amount equal to anappraiser's estimate of the land value, which likelydoesn't match the value of the location to your business. Whenyou have a thriving business, it can be enormously expensive tomove. You may not be able to find a suitable location nearby, andmoving across town could cost you your customer base plus lostincome because of the disruption.

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