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Right-of-Way Division - Acquisition Procedures

The state is confronted with the enormous task of constructing highways to accommodate the traveling public. Many acres of land, some improved and some in its natural state, will be needed from a great many individual property owners.

The Right-of-Way Office sincerely tries to secure property required at a fair market price and with as little inconvenience to the affected citizens as possible under the circumstances.

The Process
The process is not unlike a private sale from one property owner to another, except for the fact that the State, because it is acting in the public interest, has the responsibility to acquire property at a fair price.

Policy and Rights
It is the obligation of the Tennessee Department of Transportation to see that property owners are treated in a fair manner and in such a way as to cause as little inconvenience as possible.

Occasionally, agreements cannot be reached and when these situations develop, the property owners, as well as the Department, have well-defined rights under the law. These rights safeguard the owner from getting less than fair market value and protect the tax funds appropriated for right-of-way purchases by the State from unrealistic demands.

Appraisals
Before the property owners are contacted by the Right-of-Way buyers, experienced appraisers investigate every approach to the value of the property to be acquired. They personally check each home, place of business, and/or parcel of land that will be involved. Public records are searched and recent bona fide land sales in the neighborhood are checked in order to establish a basis for valuing each property. This valuation is based on fair market value - what a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller.

From all of the information available, the appraiser then prepares a formal appraisal report that shows the development of the fair market values assigned to the items involved. When only a portion of an entire property is to be acquired, the effect of the proposed acquisition on the remainder of the property is also considered by the appraiser. The appraisal report includes a signed certification that the appraiser has no present or intended future interest in the property appraised.

Because of a heavy workload, it is often necessary for the State to employ outside appraisers. Also, if the nature of the property and use to which it is put is unique, it is necessary for the State to employ an outside appraiser who specializes in the particular kind of property involved.

All appraisals are reviewed by a qualified individual, and an amount is determined that the State will offer for the property.

Acquisitions
The Buyer then calls on the property owner at a time convenient to both and explains the effects of the proposed project on the property. An approved written offer will be made to the owner at this time. Except in very unusual circumstances, the owner will receive payment in the amount of the State's offer prior to vacating his property. The buyer is prepared to make one or more return visits. If during negotiations it is found that some item of value in the proposed acquisition or element of damage was overlooked, the appraisal, after due process, will be adjusted accordingly.

Payment is made to the property owner within a reasonable time, usually within 60 days after agreement is reached, thereby providing the property owner with funds to purchase new property or make adjustments to his remaining property.

Relocation Assistance and Payments
An occupant, either owner or tenant, who will be displaced by the highway project will be personally contacted by an agent for the State who will explain the assistance and payments available under the Department's Relocation Assistance Program. Occupants will also be furnished a brochure outlining benefits for which they may be eligible. Ample notice and time for removal will be given.

Eminent Domain Proceedings
Where an agreement cannot be reached between the property owner and the Department for sale of the property, the Department will proceed to acquire the property through Eminent Domain Proceedings. In such proceedings, a jury of qualified citizens is chosen to hear testimony prepared by both the property owner and the State. After deliberation, the jury arrives at an amount it determines as just compensation to the property owner. The amount set by the court is binding to both parties, unless it can be shown that some part of the proceeding was in error.

When Eminent Domain Proceedings are instituted in a case, the State deposits with the Circuit Court Clerk an amount of money equal to the offer made by the State for the property and/or property rights required for the project.

The property owner may, if he so desires, withdraw all of the money deposited without influencing in any way the amount of the final award to be determined by the court. In the event the award differs from the amount the owner has withdrawn from the court prior to final court action, necessary adjustments are made between the owner and the Department after the court decision is rendered.

Right of Entry
To meet a project construction schedule, in some cases, the Department may find it necessary to request the owner to allow construction to proceed on the property prior to either an amicable sell and purchase agreement or Eminent Domain Proceedings. A "Right-of-Entry" given by the owner to the Department for benefit of the public at large shall, in no manner, affect the legal rights of either the owner or the State. When such a right is voluntarily granted by the owner, the procedures outlined above would be followed as applicable to the case; however, the State would proceed with construction during the period of negotiations.

Right-of- Way Clearance
The right-of-way acquired must be cleared of all buildings. The property owner, therefore, is offered a fair market price for any and all buildings located on the land acquired. Once an agreement is reached on this basis and a deed executed, the buildings, as well as the land, become the property of the State.

The State, at its election, may dispose of the buildings by advertising them for sale and removal, or by including them in the roadway contract to be removed by the contractor. In the event the property owner wishes to retain a building, a salvage appraisal is made and the amount offered the property owner is adjusted on the basis of the owner retaining the right to remove the improvement. The agreement specifies the time allowed the property owner to clear the building from the right-of-way.

Conclusion
It is the Tennessee Department of Transportation's aim to secure right-of-way required for construction and maintenance of our highway system at a fair price under amicable conditions. Many questions may arise in your mind concerning the acquisition of your property that may not be explained here. Click here to see a list of the offices in charge of the right-of-way acquisition for each of the state's four regions. Please feel free to ask any questions you wish of the Right-of-Way personnel located at these offices.