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Real Estate Acquisition Guide For Local Public Agencies

VII. Relocation Assistance

Uniform Act - Title II

"This title establishes a uniform policy for the fair and equitable treatment of persons displaced as a direct result of programs or projects undertaken by a Federal agency or with Federal financial assistance. The primary purpose of this title is to ensure that such persons shall not suffer disproportionate injuries as a result of programs and projects designed for the benefit of the public as a whole and to minimize hardship of displacement on such persons."

When land needed for a public project is occupied, it may be necessary to displace the occupants, who may include individuals, families, businesses, farms, or even non-profit organizations. The Uniform Act and the government-wide rule prescribe certain benefits and protections for persons displaced by public projects funded, at least in part, with Federal money.

Among other benefits, the Uniform Act provides relocation payments for persons displaced from their residences, businesses, farms, or even non-profit organizations. These payments include moving expenses and certain supplements for increased costs at a replacement location. In addition, the Act provides protections for displaced persons such as requiring the availability of replacement housing, minimum standards for such housing, and requirements for notices and informational materials. Also, the Act entitles displaced persons to certain "advisory services" to help them move successfully.

The provisions of the Uniform Act concerning relocation are found in Title II which contains the following "Declaration of Policy."

Relocation Planning

Successful relocation requires planning. This is especially true for businesses that need replacement sites that will fit their operations and be convenient to their clientele. Businesses must be given relocation assistance as required by the Uniform Act. Housing resources must meet the needs of displaced residents in terms of size, price, location, and timely availability. Advisory services and various notices, some with specific timing requirements, must be provided. Payments must be made to displaced persons at the time they are needed to obtain replacement housing. Often coordination with other displacing programs or agencies is necessary. These things do not happen automatically; they require planning by the agency. Since the relocation of occupants is one of the major potential impacts of any project, the earlier such impacts are considered the easier it will be eventually to deal with any problems encountered. Moreover, early consideration of relocation impacts may influence the alignment eventually chosen for a project. Lastly, if project displacement involves persons with special needs such as the disabled or the elderly, particular attention will have to be given to advisory services.

Notices

The Uniform Act and the regulations recognize the need of displaced persons for information about the relocation process and require that certain information be provided to them. This information is provided through personal contact and through a series of notices for the purposes of minimizing disruption and maximizing the chances of a successful relocation. The following are the primary notices that must be delivered as part of the program:

Picture of the title page of the FHWA's Relocation Brochure.
(Figure 4)
  1. General Information Notice.This notice is to be provided to potential displaced persons at an early stage of the project. It is to be written in easily understood language and, if appropriate, in a foreign language. One common approach is to hand out an informational brochure at the public hearings for the project. The FHWA relocation brochure (cover shown in Figure 4) is available from the FHWA website or your SDOT. The purpose of the notice is to provide a general description of the agency's relocation program, including benefits, responsibilities and protection. Detailed information about the content of this notice may be found in the government-wide (Uniform Act) regulations at 49 CFR 24.203.
  2. Notice of Relocation Eligibility.This notice is provided as soon as it has been determined that particular persons will be displaced by the project. The notice informs the occupant that he or she will be displaced and, therefore, will be eligible for relocation benefits, as applicable. The trigger for providing this notice is based on whichever of the following events occur first.
    1. The notice of intent to acquire in § 24.203(d),
    2. The initiation of negotiations in § 24.2(a)(15), or
    3. The date the property is acquired.
  3. 90-Day Notice.The 90-day notice is a basic protection of the Uniform Act. As part of the general information notice described above, the displacing agency must inform potential displaced persons that they will not have to move without at least 90 days' written notice. The 90-day notice, itself, will come later, when the agency's plans for requiring occupants to move have become more precise. At this time (and for residential displacements, only after ensuring that at least one comparable replacement dwelling is available), the agency will inform a person to be displaced, at least 90 days in advance, of the earliest date by which he or she may be required to move. This means, for example, that if the agency believes it may require an occupant to move by July 15, it must inform him or her, in writing, at least 90 days in advance, i.e., April 16. In practice, the agency may not actually require the move until after July 15. Conversely, the occupant may choose to move before that date. In either case, the occupant does not have to move before July 15 and the requirement to provide 90 days' notice has been satisfied.

Some agencies choose an optional method of delivering the 90-day notice. They deliver a 90-day notice which not only meets the requirements described above but also states that they will deliver another notice 30 days prior to the day that the occupant will be required to move.

Note: There can be exceptions to the 90-day notice requirement, but only for emergency situations involving health, safety, or similar reasons which make a delay of 90 days impracticable. Contact your SDOT for further information on notice requirements.

Advisory Services

Relocation payments alone often are not enough to minimize the hardship of a move necessitated by a public project and ensure a successful move to a replacement location. Another key element is relocation advisory services. These services provide displaced persons with information, counseling, advice, and encouragement and often require repeated and intense personal contact. A displacing agency should become knowledgeable about the nature of the population its project will impact and plan to provide advisory services accordingly.

In addition, it may be necessary to provide unusual types of assistance to persons with unusual or special needs.

Note: It is important to know that, in accordance with amendments to the Uniform Act passed in 1997, persons who are aliens not lawfully present in the United States are not eligible, with certain limited exceptions, to receive relocation payments or advisory services.

Relocation Assistance Payments

We have often noted that one of the main purposes of the Uniform Act is to prevent affected persons from bearing an unfair share of the burden of public projects. Such a burden could easily be created if a displaced person were forced to pay increased rent for a replacement apartment or a higher price or interest rate for a replacement home. In order to prevent this, the Uniform Act provides for relocation payments to displaced persons.
There are two main categories of payments, residential and non-residential. Within each category there are several types of payments which address expenses incurred as a result of a required move.

The following provides brief descriptions of the relocation payments available to displaced persons. Each type of payment has its own eligibility criteria and computation requirements, the details of which are beyond the scope of this publication.

Note: Should your project require the displacement of families, individuals, businesses, farms, or non-profit organizations, we recommend you contact your SDOT or other persons knowledgeable about the limitations and conditions of these payments and the other complex relocation requirements of the Uniform Act.

Residential Displacements

  1. Moving and related expenses.This includes payment for the actual cost to move personal property. A property owner may have a commercial mover move personal property or may elect to move the personal property himself. If the person displaced elects to move the property themselves, they can be reimbursed for the actual costs incurred based on receipted bills (based on rates comparable to those charged by commercial movers), or be paid on the basis of a move cost schedule. The schedule is published by FHWA and available on their website at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/real_estate/ or from the local SDOT. Use of the schedule saves administrative costs for the agency and is advantageous to the owner of the personal property.
  2. Replacement housing payment. A payment for the difference, if any, between the actual acquisition price or rent of a comparable replacement dwelling and the acquisition price or rent of the dwelling from which the occupant is being displaced. Additionally, increased mortgage interest costs and selected incidental expenses (settlement costs) also may be eligible.

Replacement Housing Standards

A basic requirement of the Uniform Act is that the replacement housing made available to displaced persons must meet certain standards. These standards are contained in the interrelated concepts of "decent, safe, and sanitary housing" and "comparable replacement housing."

The phrase "decent, safe, and sanitary (DSS)" refers to the physical condition of the replacement dwelling. Basically, a dwelling which meets the standards of a typical local housing or occupancy code and the minimum requirements of the Federal regulation will be DSS. If a community has a more stringent set of housing codes then those found in the government-wide rule at §49 CFR 24.2(a)(8), they may be used to determine whether a dwelling is DSS.

The phrase "comparable replacement dwelling" means a dwelling which meets the following criteria:

  1. Decent, safe, and sanitary, as described previously.
  2. Functionally equivalent to the displacement dwelling.
  3. Adequate in size to accommodate the displaced person(s).
  4. Located in an area that is:
    • not subject to unreasonable adverse environmental conditions;
    • generally not less desirable than the location of the displacement dwelling with regard to public utilities and commercial and public facilities;
    • reasonably accessible to the displaced person's place of employment.
  5. Located on a typical residential site.
  6. Currently available to the displaced person(s).
  7. Within the financial means of the displaced person(s).

Note: The regulations require that no person may be required to move from a dwelling unless he or she has been offered an available comparable replacement dwelling.

In carrying out this requirement, the displacing agency must offer every displaced person at least one comparable replacement dwelling and, if possible, three. This is a crucial part of the displacement process, since the comparable replacement dwelling will form the basis of the computation of the replacement housing payment.

Many of the elements of comparable replacement housing deal with the specific needs of displaced persons, e.g., financial means, access to employment, and access to public and commercial facilities. This reemphasizes the critical importance of what was stressed above in the section on Advisory Services - the need for the agency to determine the displaced person's needs and circumstances. This can be accomplished only by personal contact with each displaced household early in the process.

Mobile Homes

Picture of a mobile home.

Mobile homes present one of the most complex and difficult situations with which displacing agencies must cope. Mobile homes differ from conventional housing in that their status as real or personal property varies from State to State. Also, in a mobile home situation, there is a separation between the dwelling and the site it occupies. For example, one may own a mobile home but rent its site or vice versa.

These differences may present you with two general problems. The first involves a decision you may not have to make with conventional housing - whether to acquire or move the mobile home. The second is a major increase in the complexity of determining the relocation payments for which the displaced person is eligible.

In addition, mobile homes typically will have a disproportionate number of low-income, elderly, and other occupants who are difficult to move successfully. For all these reasons, dealing with mobile home moves will require the maximum in planning, preparation, patience, and assistance.

Note: If your project might include the displacement of mobile homes, we recommend that you contact your STD for assistance.

Business Displacements

  1. Actual moving and related expenses.The cost to move, and, if appropriate, disconnect and reinstall personal property will usually be reimbursable. Costs incurred in hiring commercial and specialized equipment movers plus certain utility connections, professional services related to the purchase/lease of the replacement property and impact fees and one-time assessments may be reimbursed if found to be actual, reasonable and necessary. A list of eligible and ineligible moving and related expenses is included in the regulations in §24.301(g) and (h) respectively.

    If a business owner decides not to move personal property, as an alternative he or she may elect to be paid on the basis of actual direct loss of tangible personal property or the cost of substitute personal property. Such alternate payments may not exceed the actual cost to move the items.
  2. Reestablishment expenses. In addition to a payment for moving expenses, the owner of a small business may be eligible for up to $10,000 for reimbursement of eligible expenses associated with the reestablishment of a business at a replacement location.
  3. Search costs.A business may be reimbursed for up to $2,500 of expenses incurred in connection with searching for a replacement location.
  4. Fixed moving expenses payment. A business may be eligible for a payment of not less than $1,000 and not more than $20,000 in place of an actual moving expense payment. This often is referred to as an "in lieu" payment. The payment amount is based on average annual net earnings of the business. There are additional eligibility requirements for this payment which are described in the regulations at 49 CFR 24.305.

Typical Relocation Process Under The Uniform Act

Typical Relocation Process Under The Uniform Act - click image for long description

Updated: 04/02/2013
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