Acquisition Proceedings For Federal and Federally Assisted Programs

Title III of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 discuss the real property acquisition requirements[i].

Pursuant to 42 USCS § 4651:

  • The head of a Federal agency should make every reasonable effort to expeditiously acquire real property by negotiation.
  • Real property should be appraised before the initiation of negotiations and the owner or his/her designated representatives should be given an opportunity to accompany the appraiser during his/her inspection of the property.
  • Before the initiation of negotiations for real property, the head of the Federal agency concerned should establish an amount which s/he believes to be just compensation and should make a prompt offer to acquire the property for the full amount so established.  Such amount should not be less than the agency’s approved appraisal of the fair market value of property.  Any decrease or increase in the fair market value of real property prior to the date of valuation will be disregarded in determining the compensation for the property.  The head of the Federal agency concerned should provide the owner of real property to be acquired with a written statement of, and summary of the basis for, the amount s/he established as just compensation.
  • No owner is required to surrender possession of real property before the head of the Federal agency concerned before paying the agreed purchase price, or deposits with, for the benefit of the owner, an amount not less than the agency’s approved appraisal of the fair market value of such property, or the amount of the award of compensation in the condemnation proceeding for such property.
  • The construction or development of a public improvement should be so scheduled that no person lawfully occupying real property is required to move from a dwelling or to move his/her business or farm operation, without at least ninety days’ written notice from the head of the Federal agency concerned, of the date by which such move is required.
  • If the head of a Federal agency permits an owner or tenant to occupy the real property acquired on a rental basis for a short term or for a period subject to termination by the Government on short notice, the amount of rent required should not exceed the fair rental value of the property to a short-term occupier.
  • In no event should the head of a Federal agency either advance the time of condemnation or defer negotiations or condemnation and the deposit of funds in court for the use of the owner, or take any other action coercive in nature, in order to compel an agreement on the price to be paid for the property.
  • If any interest in real property is to be acquired by exercise of the power of eminent domain, the head of the Federal agency concerned should institute formal condemnation proceedings.
  • If the acquisition of only a portion of a property would leave the owner with an uneconomic remnant, the head of the Federal agency concerned should offer to acquire that remnant.
  • A person whose real property is being acquired may, after the person has been fully informed of his/her right to receive just compensation for such property, donate such property, and part thereof, any interest therein, or any compensation paid to a Federal agency, as such person determines.

Thus, 42 U.S.C.S. § 4651 provides that, in order to encourage and expedite the acquisition of real property by agreements with owners, to avoid litigation and relieve congestion in the courts, to assure consistent treatment for owners in the many federal programs, and to promote public confidence in federal land acquisition practices, the agency seeking to acquire real property should[ii]:

  • make every reasonable effort to acquire property by negotiation,
  • appraise the property before the initiation of negotiations, with the owner present, if s/he wishes, at that appraisal, and
  • make an initial offer to the landowner to acquire the property interest for the full appraisal amount.

The real property acquisition requirements apply to any acquisition of real property for a federal program or project and to programs and projects where there is federal financial assistance for any part of the costs.  In addition, these requirements apply when acquiring fee title subject to retention of a life estate or a life use; to acquisition by leasing where the lease term, including option for extension, is fifty years or more; and to the acquisition of permanent easements.

The acquisition proceedings start with a notice.  The heads of federal agencies must, notify the owner, as soon as feasible, of the agency’s interest in acquiring the owner’s real property[iii].  The owner must be notified of the basic protections, including the agency’s obligation to secure an appraisal, provided to the owner by law and by regulation.  Before the initiation of negotiations for real property, the head of the federal agency establish an amount that s/he believes is just compensation for the real property and makes an offer.  The Fifth Amendment forbids the taking of private property for public use without just compensation[iv].

The heads of federal agencies then make every reasonable effort to expeditiously acquire real property by negotiation.  The Agency should make all reasonable efforts to contact the owner or the owner’s representative and discuss its offer to purchase the property, including the basis for the offer of just compensation and explain its acquisition policies and procedures, including its payment of incidental expenses[v].

Before requiring the owner to surrender possession of the real property, the Agency should pay the agreed purchase price to the owner, or in the case of a condemnation, deposit with the court, for the benefit of the owner, an amount not less than the Agency’s approved appraisal of the fair market value of such property, or the court award of compensation in the condemnation proceeding for the property[vi].  However, in exceptional circumstances, with the prior approval of the owner, the Agency may obtain a right-of-entry for construction purposes before making payment available to an owner.

[i] 42 USCS § 4651.

[ii] Columbia v. Costle, 710 F.2d 1009 (4th Cir. S.C. 1983).

[iii] 49 CFR 24.102.

[iv] Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council v. Tahoe Reg’l Planning Agency, 535 U.S. 302 (U.S. 2002).

[v] 49 CFR 24.102 (f).

[vi] 49 CFR 24.102.


Inside Acquisition Proceedings For Federal and Federally Assisted Programs