Eminent Domain gives certain entities the authority to take private property for use in public projects. Both the U.S. and Texas state constitutions give the government the right to obtain land in this matter, provided the property owner is fairly compensated for their land.
In Texas, private property can only be taken by an entity authorized by the state to do so, and it can only be taken for a purpose or use that serves the general public. Texas law prohibits using eminent domain to acquire property to enhance tax revenues or foster economic development. In addition to receiving a market value for their property that is taken, landowners are also entitled to compensation for damages to remaining land caused by the acquisition of their land.
The eminent domain condemnation process begins when a condemning entity makes plans for a public project, such as expanding a highway or building a new school. The projects’ location will determine which properties will be affected.
A Bona Fide Offer, Professional Appraisal and the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights
An entity with eminent domain authority that wants to acquire property for public use must make a bona fide offer to acquire the property from the property owner voluntarily. Before making their offer, the entity must obtain a written appraisal from a certified appraiser as to the value of the property being acquired and the damages, if any, to any of the property owner’s remaining property.
This offer must be equal to or greater than the appraisal amount.
At the same time they make their written, bona fide offer, the condemning entity must provide the property owner with copies of:
- All written appraisals the condemning authority has obtained
- The deed, easement, or other instrument conveying the property sought to be acquired
- The State of Texas’ landowner’s bill of rights
NOTE: The Texas property code specifically prohibits the condemning entity from including any non-disclosure provisions in its offer to a property owner. In fact, they are required to inform you that you have a right to discuss the offer or agreement with others. This means you have a right to hire legal representation to review the offer and represent your interests.
You have 14 days to respond to the offer. Before accepting or rejecting the offer, it’s a good idea to seek the professional advice of a qualified and experienced Texas eminent domain lawyer.
If you decide to accept the offer, you are paid for your land, the deed is transferred to the condemning entity and the process is complete.
What Happens If You Decide You Don’t Want to Accept the Bona Fide Offer?
If you and the condemning entity do not agree on the value of your property, the entity will begin condemnation proceedings. The entity begins the condemnation proceeding by filing a petition in the proper court – usually in the county where the property is located.
After the condemnation claim is filed in court, the judge will appoint three local landowners to serve as special commissioners. The special commissioners will issue a written award stating an amount that the condemning entity has to deposit into the registry of the court in order to take possession of your property.
If you or the condemning entity isn’t pleased with the amount of the commissioners’ award, either side can appeal the commissioners’ decision and has the right to request a trial by a judge or jury. If you question whether the condemning entity actually has the authority to condemn your property through the eminent domain condemnation process, you can also appeal the decision of the commissioners and ask the court to determine whether the entity has the power to condemn through the eminent domain condemnation process.
It’s Your Right to Speak with an Eminent Domain Lawyer in Texas
The eminent domain condemnation process in Texas is complex and very different from other types of property dispute cases. If you are a Texas property owner faced with condemnation of their land by an entity with eminent domain authority, it is important to understand your rights during the condemnation process. It is of the utmost importance that you contact an experienced eminent domain attorney early on in the process in order to adequately protect your rights in any eminent domain condemnation process.
The eminent domain attorneys at Dawson & Sodd LLP have been protecting the rights of individual and commercial land owners in Texas for over a hundred years. Our knowledge and expertise will ensure your interests are fully represented. We’ll make sure the condemning entity follows the letter of the law during the eminent domain condemnation process and that you get the full compensation you are owed for your land. We will also negotiate with the condemning entity early in the process for you to ensure that you are fully protected.
If you have been contacted by a condemning entity, please call Dawson & Sodd LLP at (903) 872-8181 or contact us online schedule a free consultation with an experienced Texas condemnation attorney. We will review the facts in your case, answer any questions you may have about the condemnation process and offer professional advice on the best way to protect your rights. Dawson & Sodd LLP serves land owners all over the state of Texas.