The Process of Taking Private Property for Public Use
In Texas, the state or federal government – or a private company acting under government authority – is able to take private property and convert it into an area for public use through a process known as eminent domain. The government and other entities may take – or condemn – property even if the owner does not want to sell through the power of eminent domain. The vast size of Texas on top of its abundant available natural resources makes eminent domain a particularly important subject as the need for expansion of public utilities and transportation continues to grow. A condemning authority can only take privately owned property if it compensates the property owner fairly. All Texans should be aware of how eminent domain works to ensure they are not missing out on compensation and can fight for their property rights when needed.
The controversial process of eminent domain is currently under ongoing scrutiny in Texas surrounding the high-speed rail project planned between Dallas and Houston. The parties involved have submitted briefs to the of Texas Supreme Court regarding the project’s ability to use eminent domain. Homeowners who will be affected by this project assert the Texas Central Railroad does not have eminent domain authority to take their land.
The concept of eminent domain is derived from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that no entity may take private property for public use without “just compensation.” The Texas Constitution addresses this in Article I, Section 17 adding that property may not be taken, damaged, or destroyed for public use without payment of just compensation. When government actors or public utility companies need land to build infrastructure, that land is often privately owned by a person or company. If this is the case, the first step in obtaining the land is a negotiation wherein the government will make an offer to purchase the title or access to their land to the current landowners. Common public uses for which eminent domain is sought include:
- Public roads or highways
- Public utilities
- Texas parks
- Military bases
- Public airports
- Oil pipelines
- Public transportation facilities
- Public hospitals
- Education in state universities or public schools
- Water supply
- Government buildings
- Nuclear power stations
The Texas Condemnation Process
To start the condemnation process, the government actor will typically ask the landowner to agree to an environmental survey and land appraisal conducted. Once a property value is determined, the condemner will send an initial offer to the landowner. Having an experienced eminent domain attorney will be critical to represent the landowner’s best interests. They will know the right questions to ask and how to interpret the documents presented by the government. It is recommended that the landowner also have an appraisal done by an independent party. Once the landowner and their attorney have reviewed the offer, they can either accept or make a counteroffer. The initial government offer is typically a “low-ball” offer. Condemning entities may attempt to pressure a landowner into taking a low offer citing approaching deadlines or claims of authority. An experienced eminent domain attorney is ready for these tactics and will defend the landowner’s right to fair compensation.
If negotiations are successful and the landowner agrees to the proposed compensation, the landowner will convey the title or deed to their land to the government for the negotiated price. If negotiation fails or the landowner is unable to convey a clear title, the government will begin the process of condemnation by filing a condemnation petition under Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code. After the declaration of intention to take the property is filed, court-appointed special commissioners will determine the property’s appropriate value in a special commissioner’s hearing. The landowner can then accept that valuation or file a civil lawsuit where a judge or jury determines the property’s value. When a decision is rendered, either party can appeal it. Proceedings are not final until the conclusion of any appeals.
Amarillo Eminent Domain Attorneys
Texas landowners feel strongly about their property rights and as such want those rights protected by eminent domain laws. While the eminent domain process may seem complicated, the civil litigation lawyers of Lovell, Lovell, Isern & Farabough, LLP are very familiar with the condemnation process, from location selection through appeals. Our team fights for the rights of Texas landowners. If you own commercial, residential, industrial, or rural property, your land may become subject to condemnation.
We work to ensure the property in our local communities remains as valuable as possible. Experienced representation is invaluable at every single stage of this process, as there are a myriad of specific deadlines that must be met and paperwork that must be filed. If you are a Texas property owner fighting a condemnation, contact us today to discuss your legal rights and options.