Property owners in the path of light rail and bus rapid transit projects are now eligible to receive the full protection of the state’s eminent domain laws, thanks to legislation passed in 2017 by the State Legislature.
Before passage of this legislation, the Metropolitan Council (Met Council) had been taking the position that it was a public service corporation. This status would have exempted the Met Council from extending to property owners certain compensation rights normally available under Minnesota law when private property is taken for public projects.
Because of this new legislation, the following property owner rights are now available to those whose property is taken – in whole or in part – by the Met Council for a light rail or bus rapid transit project:
• Attorney fees under Minn. Stat. § 117.031, which provides that the court may award attorney and expert fees if just compensation recovery is at least 20 percent, but not more than 40 percent greater than the Met Council’s last written offer. The statute further provides that the court must award such fees if the just compensation recovered is more than 40 percent greater than the last written offer.
• The Met Council must provide property owners with a written offer, along with a copy of an appraisal. The council must also make a good faith attempt at negotiating with the property owners and reimburse them for appraisals up to $1,500 for single and two-family residences and $5,000 for other types of property.
• Property owners must now be advised by the Met Council of certain rights in the petition filed with the district court to commence the condemnation proceedings. These rights include their right to challenge the public use, purpose or necessity of the project for which their property is being taken and their appeal rights from any adverse determination on such a challenge.
• Business property owners are now eligible to seek compensation for “loss of going concern” under Minn. Stat. § 117.186, and to seek minimum compensation under Minn. Stat. § 117.187. Minimum compensation recognizes that when a business owner must relocate, the damages, at minimum, must be sufficient to allow the owner to purchase a comparable property in the community.
• The Met Council cannot require a property owner to accept as part compensation a substitute or replacement property and cannot force the owner to accept the return of property that has been acquired.
• Displaced business property owners are now also eligible for relocation assistance in the form of reestablishment expenses up to a maximum reimbursement of $50,000. All displaced property owners also now have the right to challenge their eligibility for relocation assistance and to challenge the amount of such assistance through a contested case proceeding before an administrative law judge.
These are significant statutory rights that the legislature adopted to ensure that property owners displaced by a public project would have the opportunity to receive “just compensation” for the taking of their property, as the state and federal constitutions require. The 2017 legislation restores these rights to property owners who find themselves in the path of transit projects carried out by the Met Council.