The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (the Uniform Act) provides protections and benefits for persons whose real property is acquired and/or who are displaced by a Federal or Federally-assisted program or project. It is one of the most fundamental and wide-ranging cross-cutting Federal funding requirements. Its roots lie in the Constitution itself, and it is a recognition of the vulnerability of the average person faced with government's power of eminent domain.
In 1987, Congress expanded the Uniform Act's requirements beyond government agencies to apply to any person or organization acquiring property or causing displacement for a project receiving Federal financial assistance. This expansion meant that various persons and organizations that do not have eminent domain authority (the right to condemn property) must also comply with the requirements of the Uniform Act.
FHWA, in its government-wide regulations implementing the Act, provided much simplified requirements for these "voluntary transactions" by such persons or organizations. When the acquisition of property meets the "voluntary transactions criteria of the Uniform Act regulations, the person, organization, or government agency can considerably streamline the purchase of the property. The key to this expedited process is that the purchaser must not be able or willing to condemn the property if the owner refuses to sell it. Guidance on "voluntary transactions" is provided in the November 1, 1996 Memo, "The Uniform Act and Transportation Enhancements."
Conservation Organizations Exemption from Uniform Act (Section 315 of the National Highway System (NHS) Designation Act of 1995)
Section 315 of the National Highway System (NHS) Designation Act of 1995, which applies to transportation enhancement activities only, exempts qualified conservation organizations from the requirements of the Uniform Act. This allows conservation organizations more flexibility in acquiring property from third parties which subsequently is used in Federally-assisted projects.
On February 20, 1996, guidance was issued on this new flexibility in applying the Uniform Act and the criteria for doing so, in the Memo, "Implementation Guidance-Section 315 NHS Act." Conservation organizations are not required to be covered by the Act expect in two statutorily prescribed circumstances: (1) where they are acting not for themselves but as the agent of a recipient of Federal funds, or (2) when Federal approval to acquire real property occurred before the involvement of the conservation organization. Section 315 allows conservation organizations to participate in transportation enhancement activities with a minimum of administrative burden while maintaining the fundamental protections of the Uniform Act.