Receiving notice that your property may be taken by condemnation can be an emotional and devastating event. Many Texas landowners have operated family farms, ranches, businesses, or personal homes on the same land for many years. One of their first questions is, “What can I do about eminent domain?”
We understand that facing these types of losses and interrupted dreams carries a heavy weight and burden of anxiety. This initial time can be pivotal for the landowner. Statements or other information given to the Condemnor’s representatives, decisions made, and actions taken can make or break how successful the landowner will be at obtaining the just and adequate compensation the Constitution guarantees.
Before you take any action, consider a few points during this critical time to gain a better perspective and better understand your situation:
The Government Has Experience and Vast Resources
The government is experienced at taking property from private citizens and businesses in Texas. Most condemning authorities have vast resources at their disposal to organize the acquisition of numerous properties from private landowners. While governmental entities have vast experience in condemnation and talking landowners into low-ball offers, most landowners are experiencing the condemnation process for the first time.
The government has very likely spent years planning its project — and factoring in your land as part of its plan. Experienced appraisers, engineers, and attorneys may have all been involved as the government planned the condemnation of your property for years. They have one goal in mind: to put the government in the best position to acquire your property at the lowest price possible.
Do Not Assume You’ll Be Treated Fairly in the Texas Eminent Domain Process
Do not assume the offer you receive is fair or correct. At Dawson & Sodd, we have experience obtaining settlements and verdicts in amounts that significantly exceed what was originally offered.
Sometimes their appraisers make mistakes. In some cases, lawyers for the condemning authorities instruct the appraisers to exclude certain forms of compensation that you may be entitled to receive. Sometimes lawyers for condemning authorities keep their own appraisers in the dark about the true impacts from the project — even up until final trial.
Additionally, appraisers love working for condemning authorities due to the high volume of work and being paid extra for testimony at commissioners’ hearings, at other hearings, or at trial. Knowing their condemnor client likes low values, in some instances it seems as though low-ball offers are encouraged by the appraiser’s desire to keep a lucrative client.
Think About the Future
Consider the impacts the project will have on you and your property. Changes in access, denials of access at certain locations, inability to use easement areas for certain activities, and losses of highest and best uses for the future are all things to be considered.
Texas Landowners Have Rights
Landowners have rights. You do not have to talk to your adversary, enter any agreements or make any commitments before checking with an experienced eminent domain attorney. You also have the right to receive just compensation. If you feel the government’s first offer is not fair, you can refuse it. Again, you are under no obligation to talk to the condemning authority or its appraisers about your property.
We have even seen claims by the Condemnor or its appraisers that a client said something damaging to his case that the client denies ever saying. The less you say, the better off you may be. Refusing any personal meetings or telephone conversations is often the safest decision.
Don’t Rush Into Any Anything
You can call a time-out whenever you want. Don’t let the condemning agency dictate the timetable or force you into a hurried agreement. You should take whatever time you need to ensure you are getting a fair deal.
Attempting to convince the condemning authority it should pay you more money is often not as effective as hiring experienced condemnation counsel. Many times, your best attempts to help can end up hurting in the end.
Don’t let the government steamroll you. Talking to an experienced condemnation attorney can be invaluable in protecting your interests. With an experienced eminent domain attorney at your side, you can confidently take on the difficult process ahead.
Answers to Questions About Eminent Domain in Texas
Yes. Both the United States and Texas Constitutions provide for the right of the government to take land. However, there are specific requirements that must be met.
In general, the federal, state, county and municipal governments, as well as water districts and school districts, can exercise the right of eminent domain. Utility companies have also been allowed eminent domain authority to take private property for power lines, pipelines, etc.
In the state of Texas, property may be taken through eminent domain only for a purpose that serves the general public. Condemnation authorities cannot legally take your property to “enhance tax revenues or foster economic development.”
A few of the most common reasons why land is taken through eminent domain are: transportation projects; water, wastewater or drainage projects; utility projects; public buildings; and pipelines.
Distinguished and Experienced Texas Eminent Domain lawyers
Hiring a seasoned eminent domain lawyer as early as possible ensures that you will have quality and experienced representation each step of the way. Our firm exclusively represents landowners in condemnation cases, giving us the specific experience needed to confidently defend your best interests. Contact us today so that we may help you.
Highlighted Eminent Domain Case Result
At Dawson & Sodd, we focus our legal practice entirely only on eminent domain cases. We only represent landowners, never the government or others looking to seize private property.
In one recent case result, a condemning authority offered our client just $20,000 to acquire gas wells that were located in an area to be flooded by a new lake. Our attorneys were able to turn this into a $7.5 million settlement, with a net recovery to the landowner of $4.93 million after legal fees and litigation expenses.