During a time of crisis, such as the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, government organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have the authority to take drastic steps to respond to the emergency. This includes seizing private property for government use through the power of eminent domain.
President Trump Declares a National Emergency under the Stafford Act
On March 13, 2020, President Trump, in response to the growing threat of the COVID-19 outbreak, declared a national emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, or Stafford Act, is a federal law passed in 1988 that gives FEMA broad authority when it comes to “the rendering of aid, assistance, and emergency services, and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated areas” following a natural disaster. Among the powers granted to FEMA under the Stafford Act, includes the authority to “procure by condemnation or otherwise, construct, lease, transport, store, maintain, renovate or distribute materials and facilities for emergency preparedness, with the right to take immediate possession thereof.”
The Stafford Act gives eminent domain authority to FEMA. Facilities acquired by purchase, donation, or other means of transfer may be occupied, used, and improved before the approval of title by the Attorney General. Despite this, it’s important to note that FEMA can only lease the land it takes under Stafford Act eminent domain authority; it cannot acquire fee title to property unless specifically authorized by law.
Hopefully efforts to contain the virus will be successful and the widespread seizing of property will not become necessary.
Answers to Your Questions About Eminent Domain in Texas
Condemnation is the process by which an entity with eminent domain authority in Texas seizes private property for public use.
The condemnation process begins when an entity with eminent domain authority plans a public project that requires the taking of private property. The condemning authority must make a bona fide offer to acquire the property from the property owner voluntarily. If the landowner and the condemning authority do not agree on the property’s value, condemnation proceedings will begin.
Absolutely! Government entities are required under the U.S. and Texas constitutions to offer landowners “just and adequate” compensation for their property when it is taken by eminent domain. However, reality is that condemning entities usually hire professional agents whose job is to acquire the land quickly and cheaply. You not only have a right to refuse the government’s first offer, but it is mostly likely the smartest move you can make, especially if you have not had time to consult with an experienced eminent domain attorney.
Texas Property Owners have a Right to Fair Compensation in Stafford Act Eminent Domain Actions
Every Texas property owner wants to do their part to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Most are willing to let the government use their land if it means saving the lives of thousands of their fellow Texans. However, even during national emergencies, the federal government must still respect the constitutional rights of its citizens. This includes the right to fair and just compensation for the land the government uses during an emergency situation.
If FEMA or another government agency wishes to take your land under the Stafford Act or other law, you may not be able to stop them. However, you can take steps to ensure you get the fair price for your property as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Eminent Domain Case Results
Eminent domain law firm Dawson & Sodd has been protecting the rights of Texas landowners for more than 100 years. Over the years, we have helped many people to increase the amount of compensation received for their property. In some cases, we are able to prevent their property from being taken. In one notable case, a final offer of $200,000 was made to a ranch owner. Our client’s large and productive ranch was repeatedly flooded by water releases from an upstream lake. The Texas Supreme Court upheld a $34.2 million dollar recovery. The net recovery to the landowners was $21.9 million after legal fees and litigation, trial, and appellate expenses.
Get Help from a Texas Eminent Domain Attorney Today
If your property has been targeted for Stafford Act eminent domain, the attorneys at Dawson & Sodd are here to help. We will fight to get you the fair market price for your property as well as compensation for any damage done to your land. In many instances we have gotten compensation for our clients that was thousands of dollars more than the original offer.
Contact the law offices of Dawson & Sodd to schedule a free consultation with a leading Texas property rights lawyer. We want to hear your story, answer any questions you may have and provide honest legal advice about your options.