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How Does Eminent Domain Work?

how does eminent domain work

While many people have heard of “eminent domain,” most do not fully know what it is or how it works. Across the mid-west, our wide-open spaces, plethora of natural resources, and acres of undeveloped land make eminent domain a particularly relevant issue. This complex legal doctrine affects many who own property, and it is important to fully understand just how eminent domain works.

The government has the authority to take land from private citizens to add to the country’s infrastructure, including for things like schools, roads, and border walls. To do so, the government is legally required to fairly compensate those from whom they are taking land. This concept actually dates back to the United States Constitution – there is a clause in the Fifth Amendment that provides “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” This means the federal government can take your land and begin building on it as long as they pay you for it, eventually.

The power to take lands at the local and state level is a bit more limited, as state officials have enacted policies to protect landowners. The Texas Constitution addresses eminent domain in Article I, Section Seventeen, and provides that property may not be taken, damaged, or destroyed for public use without payment of just compensation; therefore, landowners should be aware their property can be taken.

Public utility companies and government agencies tend to need lots of land when building infrastructure which means it may become necessary to use land owned by another person or entity. If this happens, the party trying to take the land, also known as the party “seeking condemnation,” may first opt to offer to purchase the land or purchase access to the land. There are many reasons the government may need to condemn land, including needing access to build power lines, run oil, gas, or water pipelines, build roadways, or build new government buildings. The “condemnor” (the government or its agent) must make an official declaration of its intent to take the land under the law of eminent domain.

The first offer a governmental agency or public utility company makes will typically not be fair. They will try to “low ball” you and will offer significantly less compensation for the value of your land. The condemning party might try to pressure you into taking that unfair offer by claiming authority or saying that a deadline is quickly approaching that must be met. If you do not acquiesce, hired agents may confront you to negotiate the sale of your land to the government. These agents are experienced salespeople who will use every tactic they can to strong-arm you into accepting an offer that is much less than your land is worth. It is not in your best interest to take these first offers for condemnation without speaking to a knowledgeable Texas eminent domain attorney first.

An eminent domain attorney can examine every detail of your case and explain your rights as a landowner. Each eminent domain case is unique and deserves exceptional attention to detail to ensure your land is valued appropriately. Your attorney can then negotiate the condemnation offer for you and represent you if needed in the legal process that follows. If a reasonable amount is not offered after negotiations, the resulting disputes are first sent to a special commission that will decide the fair terms of the condemnation. If neither party can reach an agreement after the commissioners make a determination, your attorney can fight for your rights in court.

Eminent Domain Lawyers

If the government is trying to take your land without offering fair compensation or delaying your compensation, contact us today. We evaluate every detail of your case and will fight for your rights in court. Do not wait until it is too late to contact us. Our condemnation lawyers are ready to discuss your situation today.

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Talk to a member of our legal team today. We are Board Certified in Oil, Gas and Mineral Law; Civil Trial Law; and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We have won awards including Texas Super Lawyers Rising Stars in Energy & Natural Resources and Texas Super Lawyers in General Litigation and Personal Injury. Many of us are rated AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell – the highest possible rating for ethics and skill in our industry. All communication is kept confidential and private.