The Highwayman Cometh

By: Robert S. Shelton

As the road projects funded by the one-cent sales tax approved by Horry County voters in November 2006 begin to take shape, many area property owners have begun receiving letters from or on behalf of the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

It is critical to take these letters seriously, as the next step often involves taking private property to build or modify roads. Still, many property owners are unaware of their rights and others simply do not know how to proceed when they are approached by right of way agents.

Initially, many property owners are asked to sign permission forms permitting SCDOT survey crews to access their property. While this may at first appear to be an innocent request, it is a good idea to have an attorney familiar with the language in these forms review them and advise the property owner before any document is signed.

Just yesterday, I was told a right of way agent refused to allow a property owner to have a copy of an eminent domain appraisal of their property unless the property owner signed a permission form allowing SCDOT entry onto their property. The South Carolina Eminent Domain Procedure Act requires that the government “shall cause the property to be appraised to determine the amount that would constitute just compensation for its taking and shall make the appraisal available to the landowner.” (S.C. Code §28-2-70(A)(1976); emphasis added.)

The landowner should be treated fairly and should be given the chance to meet with a lawyer of their choosing without threat or pressure to sign any document. Attorneys who represent landowners in eminent domain, or condemnation, actions will generally meet landowners without charging any fee for an initial consultation and offer guidance to the landowner as to the options available as they proceed.