• Billboard Condemnation. Fair Market Value for Eminent Domain Takings

    By Paul Wright, ASA

    Have you ever had a sign taken by a government agency?  If it happens, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world.

    First, keep in mind that the government has the power of Eminent Domain, which means that they can take private property for public use.  However, just like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (Spiderman) “with great power, comes great responsibility.”   Over the last 40 years, we have seen Right of Way professionals (government agencies and private acquisition/relocation companies) take their responsibility seriously.  This doesn’t mean that we always agree with their methods and tactics, but we understand their motivation.  They need to buy your billboard property or help you find an equivalent site for relocation so that they can build that new freeway.

    Second, recent case law in Texas and Oklahoma supports what you have known ever since you bought or built your first billboard.  There have been recent decisions in both the Texas and Oklahoma Supreme Courts that concluded that billboard interests are compensable.   The Texas Supreme Court specifically found that owners can testify about the purchase of their billboard properties (sale price, income, etc.) and appraisers can testify about the same issues.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court found that it doesn’t matter whether billboards are characterized as real or personal property because they are private property, and private property is compensable when taken in condemnation.  In fact, the Oklahoma decision is a good reminder that the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution doesn’t mention taking real or personal property, it simply says that it “requires the government to compensate citizens when it takes private property for public use.”   This issue is not completely settled because there have been other cases that contradict these findings.  Learn your legal rights by hiring a good eminent domain attorney with some billboard experience.

    Third, prepare yourself like you would if you were selling your sign.  Billboard owners can follow these steps for the best possible outcome…

    1. Collect information about your sign (permits, land lease, easement or deed, advertising leases, plat maps, engineering drawings, specs, construction invoices, financial statements, etc.)
    2. Hire an experienced Eminent Domain and Out-of-Home Advertising attorney.
    3. Work closely with the landowner.
    4. Get a professional appraisal of your billboard interests.
    5. Be reasonable and look for opportunities to work together.

    You may have an opportunity to relocate your Vinyl sign to a better site, or put up digital displays at a new location if you are losing multiple static signs.  It is very important to get an appraisal of the existing sign location(s) and any new location(s) that is proposed to make sure that you are receiving something of equal value.  You may be offered a perpetual easement or a long-term lease on remainder parcels.  Bottom line, if you get a letter from the government don’t worry.  Get some professional help and make the most of the opportunity.

    Paul Wright, ASA is the President of SignValue, Inc. in Mesa, Arizona.  Founded in 2001, SignValue has been assisting billboard owners with appraisal and consulting services for over 15 years.  Mr. Wright has provided expert witness testimony in condemnation and other legal cases in several states, including Arizona, California, Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Colorado.  Call Paul or Cory at (480) 657-8400 or email info@signvalue.com to discuss your sign.

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