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The Hamilton Light Rail Transit project (the “LRT Project”) is a multi-billion-dollar project that has been the subject of significant controversy. The LRT Project involves the creation of a 14km transit line between McMaster University and the Eastgate Square shopping mall. It was cancelled in 2019 due to insufficient funding, then reinstated in September 2021. The federal government has now pledged to match the Ontario government’s funding commitment of $1.7 billion, and construction is due to begin sometime in 2022. To us, this is an aggressive timeline as expropriations and property acquisitions need to be completed first.
Public projects of this nature typically require the expropriating authority to purchase or acquire land or easement rights from property owners in order to make room for the construction, station stops, and infrastructure. The Hamilton LRT Project is no exception. The City of Hamilton and Metrolinx previously acquired ownership of several properties before the project was put on hold, and will now continue to acquire land and easement rights throughout 2022.
The expropriating authority will often try to reach a deal to purchase land it requires for a project. Sometimes this offer is accompanied by a real estate appraisal report. Property owners who are approached by an expropriating authority regarding the sale of their land or providing an easement to the authority should consult with a lawyer before they sign any agreement.
Property is often an individual or business’s largest investment and with the current hot real estate market, owners should ensure that they are receiving full and fair compensation for their land. Keep in mind that the real estate appraisal the authority has commissioned, if any, is often not based on the fair market value, especially when prices are rising so quickly.
When an expropriating authority cannot reach a deal to purchase the land it requires for a public project, it can exercise its legal right to acquire the land. The ability to take such steps is governed by the Expropriations Act. The expropriation or taking of land has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as one of the ultimate exercises of governmental authority. As such, the Expropriations Act regulates the expropriation process and sets out the rights of both expropriating authorities and landowners. Expropriations occur regularly for projects such as road widenings, public transit projects or other public infrastructure projects.
Property owners are entitled to fair compensation, which includes the market value of the property, as well as other categories of compensation including business losses, disturbance damages, injurious affection, and relocation costs. The expropriating authority is also required to pay the reasonable legal and professional fees of the expropriated party. To be clear, this means that if your property is subject to a partial or full expropriation, your reasonable legal and appraisal fees will be paid by the expropriating authority once the matter is resolved. Some lawyers will not bill their clients any legal fees until resolution of the matter as the authority is required to pay legal and other reasonable professional fees incurred as a result of the expropriation.
It is critical to seek legal advice as soon as possible from a lawyer experienced in expropriation law if your lands are subject to an expropriation, or if you suspect that they may be in the future.
How Unified LLP Can Help
The Property and Commerce team at Unified LLP have extensive experience representing both residential and commercial landowners, and tenants subject to expropriations and easements. Our lawyers can walk you through the various steps involved in an expropriation and can discuss various strategies to navigate the process.
Property owners do not have to accept the initial compensation offered by an authority. It is their right to negotiate with the authority or to have compensation determined at a hearing before the Ontario Land Tribunal. We have a large network of experts that we work with regularly, including real estate appraisers, land use planners and business valuators, to put forward the strongest evidence at a hearing. These matters are often resolved before the hearing once the authority is aware of the professional evidence and support an individual has gathered under their lawyer’s leadership and guidance.
We know how challenging it can be to relocate your home or business, or in the case of a partial taking or easement, to live or operate your business adjacent to a lengthy construction project. We work hard to ensure that our clients achieve the maximum compensation they are entitled to receive in a timely manner.
The key takeaway here is to consult with a lawyer before you agree to sell your property or give up any easement rights to an expropriating authority – especially if you have received a Notice of Expropriation.
Please contact Michael Paiva, Partner and head of Unified LLP’s Property and Commerce group at 416-800-1733 or 519-729-5038 for more information, or if you require assistance with an expropriation matter.