Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Laws

In Pennsylvania, a condemnation proceeding shall be brought in the court of the county in which the property is located or, if the property is located in two or more counties, in the court of any one of the counties.  Where the property is located in two or more counties and a proceeding is commenced in the court of one of the counties, all subsequent proceedings regarding the same property shall be brought in the same county[i].  Condemnation under the power of condemnation given by law to a condemnor shall be effected only by the filing in court of a declaration of taking with the security required under section 303(a).  The title which the condemnor acquires in the property condemned shall pass to the condemnor on the date of the filing and the condemnor shall be entitled to possession under section 307 to possession, right of entry, and payment of compensation.  The declaration of taking shall be in writing and executed by the condemnor and shall be captioned as a proceeding in rem and contain the following:

  • The name and address of the condemnor.
  • A specific reference to the statute and section under which the condemnation is authorized.
  • A specific reference to the action, whether by ordinance, resolution or otherwise, by which the declaration of taking was authorized, including the date when the action was taken and the place where the record may be examined.
  • A brief description of the purpose of the condemnation.
  • A description of the property condemned, sufficient for identification, specifying the municipal corporation and the county or counties where the property taken is located, a reference to the place of recording in the office of the recorder of deeds of plans showing the property condemned or a statement that plans showing the property condemned are on the same day being lodged for record or filed in the office of the recorder of deeds in the county in accordance with section 304 relating to recording notice of condemnation.
  • A statement of the nature of the title acquired, if any.
  • A statement specifying where a plan showing the condemned property may be inspected in the county in which the property taken is located.
  • A statement of how just compensation has been made or secured.

The condemnor may include in one declaration of taking any or all of the properties specified in the action by which the declaration of taking was authorized.  The prothonotary shall charge one fee for filing each declaration of taking, which shall be the same regardless of the number of properties or condemnees included.  The condemnor shall file, within one year of the action authorizing the declaration of taking, a declaration of taking covering all properties included in the authorization not otherwise acquired by the condemnor within this time[ii].

Within 30 days after the filing of the declaration of taking, the condemnor shall give written notice of the filing to the condemnee, to any mortgagee of record and to any lienholder of record.  The notice shall be served, within or without this Commonwealth, by any competent adult in the same manner as in a civil action or by registered mail to the last known address of the person being served.  If service cannot be made in the manner set forth under the provision, then service shall be made by posting a copy of the notice upon the most public part of the property and by publication of a copy of the notice, omitting the plot plan, one time each in one newspaper of general circulation and the legal journal, if any, published in the county.

The notice to be given the condemnee shall state:

  • The caption of the case.
  • The date of filing of the declaration of taking and the court term and number.
  • The name of the condemnee to whom it is directed.
  • The name and address of the condemnor.
  • A specific reference to the statute and section under which the condemnation action is authorized.
  • A specific reference to the action, whether by ordinance, resolution or otherwise, by which the declaration of taking was authorized, including the date when the action was taken and the place where the record may be examined.
  • A brief description of the purpose of the condemnation.
  • A statement that the condemnee’s property has been condemned and a reasonable identification of the property.
  • In the case of a partial taking, a plot plan showing the condemnee’s entire property and the area taken.
  • A statement of the nature of the title acquired.
  • A statement specifying where a plan showing the condemned property may be inspected in the county in which the property taken is located.
  • A statement of how just compensation has been made or secured.
  • A statement that, if the condemnee wishes to challenge the power or the right of the condemnor to appropriate the condemned property, the sufficiency of the security, the procedure followed by the condemnor or the declaration of taking, the condemnee must file preliminary objections within 30 days after being served with notice of condemnation.

Service of a copy of the declaration of taking, together with the information and notice required by subsection (c)(2), (8), (9) and (13), shall constitute compliance with the notice requirements of this section.  The condemnor shall file proof of service of the notice[iii].

The condemnor, after the expiration of the time for filing preliminary objections by the condemnee to the declaration of taking, shall be entitled to possession or right of entry upon payment of or a written offer to pay to the condemnee the amount of just compensation as estimated by the condemnor.  The condemnor shall be entitled to possession or right of entry upon an easement without the payment of or offer to pay the estimated just compensation if the condemnor has the right to assess the property for benefits.  If a condemnee or any other person then refuses to deliver possession or permit right of entry, the prothonotary upon praecipe of the condemnor shall issue a rule, returnable in five days after service upon the condemnee or the other person, to show cause why a writ of possession should not issue.  The court, unless preliminary objections warranting delay are pending, may issue a writ of possession conditioned except as provided in this subsection upon payment to the condemnee or into court of the estimated just compensation and on any other terms as the court may direct.

A court may issue a writ of possession to a condemnor prior to the disposition of preliminary objections.  If it is finally determined that a condemnation is invalid in a case in which preliminary objections challenge the validity of a right-of-way or easement for occupation by a utility, the affected owners may recover damages for injuries sustained by taking possession under this paragraph and are entitled to appropriate equitable relief.  If it is finally determined that any other condemnation is invalid after the granting of possession under this paragraph, the affected owners may recover costs and expenses under section 306(g) relating to preliminary objections and are entitled to disposition under section 306(f).

If within 60 days from the filing of the declaration of taking, the condemnor has not paid just compensation as provided in subsection (a), the condemnee may tender possession or right of entry in writing, and the condemnor shall then make payment of the just compensation due the condemnee as estimated by the condemnor.  If the condemnor fails to make the payment, the court, upon petition of the condemnee, may compel the condemnor to file a declaration of estimated just compensation or, if the condemnor fails or refuses to file the declaration, may at the cost of the condemnor appoint an impartial expert appraiser to estimate just compensation.  The court may, after a hearing, enter judgment for the amount of the estimated just compensation.

The compensation paid under subsections (a) and (b) shall be without prejudice to the rights of either the condemnor or the condemnee to proceed to a final determination of the just compensation, and any payments made shall be considered only as payments pro tanto of the just compensation as finally determined.  Following the rendition of the verdict, the court shall mold the verdict as to deduct the estimated just compensation previously paid by the condemnor.  In no event shall the condemnee be compelled to pay back to the condemnor the compensation paid under subsection (a) or (b), even if the amount of just compensation as finally determined is less than the compensation paid[iv].

The condemnor, by filing a declaration of relinquishment in court within two years from the filing of the declaration of taking and before having made the payment provided in section 307(a) or (b) relating to possession, right of entry and payment of compensation) or as to which the condemnee has not tendered possession of the condemned property as provided in section 307, may relinquish all or any part of the property condemned that it has not taken actual possession of for use in the improvement.  The title shall then revest in the condemnee as of the date of the filing of the declaration of taking, and all mortgages and other liens existing as of that date and not thereafter discharged shall be reinstated.  Notice of the relinquishment shall be:

  • Recorded in the office of the recorder of deeds of the county in which the property taken is located, with the condemnor as the grantor and the condemnee as the grantee.
  • Served on the condemnee, any mortgagee of record and any lienholder of record in the same manner as provided for service of the declaration of taking.

The fees payable to the recorder for recording the notice of relinquishment shall be in the same amounts as provided in section 304(c) relating to recording notice of condemnation.  Where condemned property is relinquished, the condemnee shall be reimbursed by the condemnor for reasonable costs and expenses as provided in section 306(g) relating to preliminary objections.  The condemnor and the condemnee, without the filing of a declaration of relinquishment, may by agreement effect a re-vesting of title in the condemnee which agreement shall be properly recorded[v].

If a condemnor has condemned a fee and then abandons the purpose for which the property has been condemned, the condemnor may dispose of it by sale, lease, gift, devise or other transfer with the following restrictions:

  • If the property is undeveloped or has not been substantially improved, it may not be disposed of within ten years after condemnation without first being offered to the condemnee at the same price paid to the condemnee by the condemnor.
  • If the property is located outside the corporate boundaries of a county of the first or second class and is undeveloped or has not been substantially improved and was devoted to agricultural use at the time of the condemnation, it may not be disposed of within 21 years after condemnation without first being offered to the condemnee at the same price paid to the condemnee by the condemnor.
  • If the property is undeveloped or has not been substantially improved and the offers required to be made under paragraphs (1) and (2) have not been accepted, the property shall not be disposed of by any condemnor, acquiring agency or subsequent purchaser for a nonpublic use or purpose within 21 years after condemnation.

Upon petition by the condemnor, the court may permit disposal of the property in less than 21 years upon proof by a preponderance of the evidence that a change in circumstances has abrogated the original public purpose for which the property was taken.  The condemnee shall be served with notice of the offer in the same manner as prescribed for the service of notices in section 305(b) relating to notice to condemnee and shall have 90 days after receipt of notice to make written acceptance.  The condemnor may not condition any offer required to be made to a condemnee under subsection (a) on the payment by the condemnee of additional fees, real estate taxes, or payments in lieu of taxes or other costs[vi].

At any stage of the proceedings, the condemnor and the condemnee may agree upon all or any part or item of the damages and proceed to have those parts or items not agreed upon assessed as provided in this chapter.  The condemnor may make payment of any part or item agreed upon[vii].

The appeal shall set forth:

  • The name of appellant and appellee.
  • A brief description or identification of the property involved and the condemnee’s interest.
  • A reference to the proceedings appealed from and the date of the filing of the viewers’ report.
  • Objections, if any, to the viewers’ report, other than to the amount of the award.
  • A demand for a jury trial if desired.  If the appellant desires a jury trial, the appellant shall at the time of filing the appeal endorse the appeal or file separately a written demand for jury trial, signed by the appellant or counsel.

If no demand for jury trial is made by the appellant, any other party may file a written demand for jury trial within 15 days after being served with a copy of the appeal.  If no party makes a demand for a jury trial as provided in this section, the right to a jury trial shall be deemed to have been waived and the court shall try the case without a jury.  The appellant shall serve a copy of the appeal on all other parties within five days after filing the appeal. Proof of service of a copy of the appeal shall be filed by the appellant.  No other pleadings shall be required and the cause shall be deemed at issue[viii].  A condemnee shall be entitled to just compensation for the taking, injury, or destruction of the condemnee’s property, determined as set forth in this chapter. Other damages shall also be paid or awarded as provided in this title[ix].

Just compensation shall consist of the difference between the fair market value of the condemnee’s entire property interest immediately before the condemnation and as unaffected by the condemnation and the fair market value of the property interest remaining immediately after the condemnation and as affected by the condemnation.  In the case of the condemnation of property in connection with any urban development or redevelopment project, which property is damaged by subsidence due to failure of surface support resulting from the existence of mine tunnels or passageways under the property or by reason of fires occurring in mine tunnels or passageways or of burning coal refuse banks, the damage resulting from the subsidence or underground fires or burning coal refuse banks shall be excluded in determining the fair market value of the condemnee’s entire property interest immediately before the condemnation.

In the case of the condemnation of property in connection with any program or project which property is damaged by any natural disaster, the damage resulting from the natural disaster shall be excluded in determining fair market value of the condemnee’s entire property interest immediately before the condemnation.  This subsection applies only where the damage resulting from the natural disaster has occurred within five years prior to the initiation of negotiations for or notice of intent to acquire or order to vacate the property and during the ownership of the property by the condemnee.  The damage to be excluded shall include only actual physical damage to the property for which the condemnee has not received any compensation or reimbursement[x].

[i] 26 Pa.C.S. § 301.

[ii] 26 Pa.C.S. § 302.

[iii] 26 Pa.C.S. § 305.

[iv] 26 Pa.C.S. § 307.

[v] 26 Pa.C.S. § 308.

[vi] 26 Pa.C.S. § 310.

[vii] 26 Pa.C.S. § 501.

[viii] 26 Pa.C.S. § 517.

[ix] 26 Pa.C.S. § 701.

[x] 26 Pa.C.S. § 702.


Inside Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Laws