Part Four: Relocation Rights in the Event of an Expropriation
In the preceding section of this blog, we discussed the rights that property owners possess in the event their property is taken for a public purpose. In addition to the rights discussed in the last section of this blog, property owners also possess significant rights to be compensated for expenses associated with relocation. If the project for which an expropriation is filed involves federal funding – even partially – the Federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisitions Policies Act of 1970 (called the “URA” or “Uniform Act”) applies. Eligibility for relocation benefits under the URA is generally triggered by negotiations, a notice of intent to acquire your property, or the actual acquisition of your property initiated by the state for a federally-assisted program or project. When federal funds are not used to finance any part of the public project, relocation assistance may be provided under Louisiana law. See La. R.S. 38:3101, et seq. Under the URA and the federal regulations implementing it, all persons, including owners, tenants, businesses, and the like, must receive written notice at least 90 days in advance of the required date for them to vacate the property. See 49 C.F.R. 24.203(a)(3). One important feature of the URA is that, in most circumstances, an occupant of a residence cannot be required to move out of the residence until at least 90 days after a “comparable replacement dwelling” has been made available for occupancy. See 49 C.F.R. 24.204(a). A “comparable replacement dwelling” means a dwelling that is, at a minimum, “decent, safe and sanitary” as well as “functionally equivalent” to the dwelling being taken. See 49 C.F.R. 24.2(a)(6). A resident may also be entitled to a “replacement housing payment” under the URA to assist him or her in purchasing a replacement residence. See 42 U.S.C. 4623(a). The replacement housing payment is designed to pay the displaced person all or part of the difference between the appraised value of the residence being taken (usually provided as part of just compensation) and a replacement dwelling. If relocation assistance is provided under a state program, governed by Louisiana law, a “comparable replacement dwelling” must be a dwelling that is a “decent, safe, and sanitary dwelling adequate to accommodate such displaced person, reasonably accessible to public services and places of employment and available on the private market.” See La. R.S. 38:3105(A)(1).
The types of relocation expenses available under the URA vary, but generally, a property owner is usually entitled to “actual reasonable expenses in moving himself, his family, business, farm operation, or other personal property,” and “actual reasonable expenses in searching for a replacement business.” See 42 U.S.C.A. §4622(a). Likewise, the URA allows a property owner to recover “actual reasonable expenses necessary to reestablish a displaced farm, nonprofit organization, or small business at its new site, but not to exceed $10,000.” Id. This last category of relocation expenses, called “reestablishment expenses”, is designed to cover the cost of new business cards, envelopes, advertisement and other costs incurred in relocating your business.
There may be limits on the amount of relocation assistance to which a property owner may be entitled and deadlines within which to apply for such assistance. It is important to check with an attorney versed in these benefits so that nothing is overlooked. Now that we’ve discussed the types of compensation to which a property owner may be entitled in the event his or her property is taken by the government, we will discuss in our next section of this blog what types of activities can constitute a “taking” that triggers the right to compensation.