What Clergy and Lay Leaders of Religious and Non-Profit Organizations Need to Know About Eminent Domain

As stewards of their organizations’ assets, clergy and lay leaders must always be mindful of important legal issues that could adversely affect the status of their religious and non-profit organizations.

In the realm of eminent domain, where property is threatened to be taken or damaged by the government for a public project, such knowledge is vital. Unless leaders know their full rights as a religious or non-profit organization, or know where to find competent legal counsel to help, private property rights, the preservation of assets, and claims for just and full compensation may be overlooked or neglected.

Faith-based leaders have a fiduciary duty to their present congregations and the generations to come. As a result, it is critical that they be fully aware of their rights and options before accepting any proposed offers, terms and conditions, or deadlines about their property from the government.

Here is just one example of the special legal rules that apply to religious and non-profit organizations in an eminent domain situation:

Churches, synagogues, mosques, and charitable facilities (like those operated by The Salvation Army or VFW) are considered nonprofit, special use properties for which there is no comparable market. Relevant provisions of California’s Code of Civil Procedure and Evidence Code set forth precise rules that apply to valuation when such properties are taken in an eminent domain action. In summary, these statutes require the property be valued based on:

  • The cost of purchasing a relocation site;
  • The reasonable cost of making that site suitable for the conduct of the same nonprofit, special use; and
  • The value of reproducing the improvements without depreciation.

The effect of these statutes is that the just compensation due to religious or non-profit organizations in an eminent domain action is the replacement cost new of the relocation site built to the current code (including any ADA requirements).

Leaders of churches, synagogues, mosques, and charities often believe that they cannot afford experienced legal counsel. For over 50 years, Sullivan, Workman & Dee has represented many religious and non-profit organizations in eminent domain, inverse condemnation, zoning, and land use matters. We are sensitive to the reality that many faith communities experience financial hardship, and often represent such clients on a contingency or reduced fee basis.

The attorneys at Sullivan, Workman & Dee are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation with a partner in our term.