Defending Your Turf

How to respond to a government land grab

When the government comes knocking, you should first hire a lawyer to find out if the new use for your land falls under the public use provision of eminent domain. If not, you could sue to keep your property. Otherwise, you can try waging a public battle. After New Rochelle, N.Y., cited eminent domain in 1999 to build an IKEA, property owners picketed city hall and organized an auto brigade to protest potential traffic congestion. The city dropped the project.

If development is inevitable, fight to get the most money you can. Property owners usually get relocation assistance and payment for the property itself, and you'll generally get to argue your case in a hearing. To get the most dough:

* Choose your words carefully when the government comes for a visit, often unannounced. "Whatever you say can be misconstrued," says Alan Ackerman, of Ackerman & Ackerman in Troy, Mich.

* Have an experienced appraiser value your business. Recent sale prices of other properties may not reflect what yours is worth.

* Avoid property tax reassessments. Now is not the time to reduce the appraised value of your property.

* Maintain your property, rather than letting it deteriorate. In these cases, appearances really do matter.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.