Many homeowners in Australia dread the day they receive a letter telling them a development project will be passing by their property. For most people, it is a day they wish should never come. However, it does happen and people get affected by the provisions of the dreaded compulsory acquisition. The thought of a person losing their house to whatever community development project that may benefit the community is never easy to accept. Most often people, try to resist the efforts of whosoever is charged with reclaiming the land needed for the development project. However, for those involved, it may be worthwhile to try and understand what compulsory acquisition is all about and what they can do if they find that their property will be taken over.
What is compulsory acquisition?
Compulsory acquisition or sometimes simply referred to as “resumption” is the act of the government reclaiming land or property that was privately owned. The word compulsory is enough to tell anyone affected that they may have little or nothing to do about the act.
Compulsory acquisition is sanctioned by section 51 of the constitution of Australia. Federal, state or local governments have the mandate to carry out the provisions of section 51.
With respect to the commonwealth, compulsory acquisition can be used whether or not a land or property owner is willing to sell their asset. Acquisition is even made easy when the land or property owner does not have a land title to the land or cannot proof that they have one. It can also be done when the owner of land cannot be found. The land or property can be acquired through negotiated settlements or in a case of national urgency by “Urgent acquisition”
When can it happen?
The first thought that comes to mind when compulsory acquisition is mentioned is that of people being evicted from properties and land when a big development project like a road has been sanctioned. Compulsory acquisition occurs all the time; especially in areas where there is little or no infrastructure. Note that the project may not be a road or a building, sometimes it may also be that the government considers the area unsafe for human habitation.
What to do if you are affected
Compulsory acquisition is an area of the law that may be considered draconian by most people. It is therefore important that people affected avoid from trying to handle the process on their own. Instead of listening to the common man who has everything bad to say about the process, it is better to speak to those that can actually provide useful insight. Speak to the project owners or the authority charged with acquiring the land. If possible, talk to lawyers and independent consultants who do not have any stakes in the process. They will help in evaluating the property and help to fight for the right compensation.
Most times compulsory acquisitions are done to carry out development projects that is for the greater good of all. However, it is hard to see the good when directly affected by the process. Even if a person manages to get good compensation, the emotional effects are still heavy. As such it is recommended that affected persons work with those that can truly help them through the process.