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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Real Estate Acquisition Guide For Local Public Agencies

I. Introduction

This guide is intended to serve as a basic reference for local public agencies and others who receive Federal-aid highway funds for projects involving the acquisition of real property. Typically, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides funds to State governments who carry out highway projects. These funds are used to support activities related to building, improving, and maintaining designated public roads. In some circumstances, the States pass on the funds to local governments or private entities. Eligibility to receive Federal funds depends upon compliance with Federal laws, regulations, and policies. State and local governments often have additional requirements that apply.

From 5th Amendment
U.S. Constitution

"No person shall. . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

One set of project activities eligible for Federal-aid funding involves the acquisition of real property and the relocation of residents, businesses, and others. Concern for fair and equitable treatment in acquiring private property for public purposes goes back to the beginnings of the United States. The founding fathers placed a high value on the protection of private property. The United States Constitution expresses this philosophy in the Fifth Amendment, where "due process" and "just compensation" are required for taking private property for a "public use."

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution extends to States the requirement of following due process when they acquire privately owned property.

There are several reasons that the Federal Government retains a deep interest in the acquisition of real property for federally assisted projects. The most important is ensuring that the Fifth Amendment mandates of due process and just compensation are met when property owners are affected by Federal-aid projects. Another is the goal of acquiring property without delaying the project for which it is needed. Finally, the Federal government is concerned that Federal tax dollars used to fund public improvement projects are spent in an appropriate fashion.

Primary Law for Acquisition and Relocation Activities

Public Law 91-646, The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended, commonly called the Uniform Act, is the primary law for acquisition and relocation activities on Federal or federally assisted projects and programs.

Other Federal, State, and local laws also govern public project and program activities. The requirements of other Federal laws that affect the process of acquiring private property for public purposes are discussed, at least minimally. However, our primary emphasis in this document will be the Uniform Act and its requirements.
Federal real estate acquisition statutes and regulations include:

United States Code (U.S.C.)

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

Updated: 9/5/2014
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