The condemnation process in Texas is a complex, and often confusing legal procedure. It’s easy to understand why many Texas landowners, most of whom are not familiar with Texas eminent domain laws, are unsure how to proceed after being served notice that the government is going to seize their land.
If you are a landowner in Texas, you’re probably interested in learning more about the condemnation process and how it could impact the ownership of your property. We’ve provided the answers to some of the more common questions property owners have about condemnation in Texas.
Keep in mind that each person’s situation is unique, so the general answers provided here might not apply to your case and are not to be construed as legal advice about your particular case.
What is Condemnation?
The US and Texas Constitutions give local, state, and federal government the authority of “eminent domain” to acquire private property for public uses such as expanding a highway or building a school. Private entities, like powerline pipeline companies, may also be allowed to acquire private property if it is for public uses. The US and Texas Constitutions also both require that the property owner be compensated for the taking of their property.
Condemnation is the legal process through which the government acquires the property through exercising its right of eminent domain.
Is Condemnation Legal?
The Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution gives the federal government to authority to take private property for public use. The constitution also requires that the government to provide just compensation to the property owners for their land.
Article 1, section 17 of the Texas State Constitution gives the state government the authority to take private land for public uses. It states who can use this power and, as in the US Constitution, that the property owner must be compensated for their land.
In the state of Texas, eminent domain and the condemnation process are governed by Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code and Title 10, Subtitle E, Chapter 2206 of the Texas Government Code.
What are my rights as a property owner during the condemnation process?
Your rights as a property owner are listed in the State of Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights. This is a document prepared by the Office of the Attorney General of Texas and applies to any attempt by the government or a private entity to take your property through the authority of eminent domain.
Download a copy of the State of Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights here.
You have the right to see the appraisal that the condemning authority used to make you an offer of just compensation. You have the right to reject that offer and have a court of law decide what just compensation should be instead of just accepting the condemning authority’s estimation of just compensation. Also, you have the right to contest that the taking is actually for a public use.
Who can take private property through condemnation?
In Texas, private property can only be taken by a governmental entity or private entity that is authorized by law to do so.
What are some of the reasons for using condemnation to acquire land?
Your property can only be taken for a purpose or use that serves the general public. This includes roads, highways, bridges, parks, public buildings, as well as water, power, and gas lines.
Texas law prohibits condemnation authorities from taking your property to enhance tax revenues or foster economic development.
I’ve heard of something called “inverse” condemnation. What is that?
Inverse condemnation is a term used to describe a situation in which a property owner alleges that the government has acquired an interest in his or her property without proper compensation and without actually instituting a condemnation case against the landowner. If the government does not intend to acquire this land a property owner may initiate inverse condemnation proceedings to force the government to buy the land. In this scenario, the property owner is the plaintiff and the government is the defendant. Many times property owners initiate inverse condemnation proceedings after the government has damaged their property or regulated it in such a way that it’s economically unfeasible to continue working the land.
How does the condemnation process begin?
The condemning entity must make a bona fide offer to purchase your property. Along with the offer, the condemning entity must disclose any appraisal reports it produced or acquired that relate specifically to the property and were prepared in the ten years preceding the date of the purchase offer and provide the property owner with a copy Landowner’s Bill of Rights. The property owner is free to accept or reject this initial offer.
What happens next?
If you and the condemning entity do not agree on the value of your property, the entity may begin condemnation proceedings. This begins by the condemning entity filing a claim for your property in court. The claim must be filed in the county where the property is located.
In addition to describing the property being condemned, the claim must:
- Specify the intended public use of the property
- List the name of the landowner
- State that the condemning entity made a bona fide offer to acquire the property from the property owner voluntarily
- State that the condemning entity provided the landowner with the Landowner’s Bill of Rights
- State that the landowner and the condemning entity were unable to agree on the value of the property
What is the Special Commissioners’ Hearing?
After the condemning entity files a condemnation claim in court, the judge will appoint three local landowners to serve as special commissioners at a special commissioners hearing. These special commissioners must all live in the county where the condemnation proceeding is filed. Their role of the special commissioners is limited to making an award of compensation to the landowner. They may consider the value of your condemned property, the damages to remaining property, any value added to the remaining property as a result of the condemnation, and the condemning entity’s proposed use of your condemned property.
After hearing the information at the commissioners’ hearing, the Special Commissioners will make their decision, called an “Award”. If neither party timely objects to the special commissioners’ Award, the court will adopt the Award as the final judgment of the court. However, if you don’t agree…
Can I appeal the Special Commissioners’ decision?
Yes, you can appeal the decision of the Special Commissioners’ Hearing. If either the landowner or the condemning entity is dissatisfied with the amount of the Award, either party can formally object to the Award. Your objection must be filed in writing with the court in a timely manner.
The appeal is heard in the same manner that other civil cases are heard. After the trial, either party may appeal the judgement entered by the court.
Keep in mind that after the original Award is filed, the condemning party can immediately take possession of your land by paying the amount of the Award, even if either party appeals the Special Commissioners’ decision.
Can I hire a lawyer to represent my interests?
Absolutely! Given the legal complexity of condemnations and litigation appraisal rules, hiring an experienced Texas eminent domain attorney is the best way to protect your interests in a condemnation proceeding. A Texas condemnation attorney can assist you in determining the true market value of your property, filling out paperwork, meeting court deadlines, protecting your rights during the condemnation process and ensuring you get the full compensation for your property that you are due. The sooner you hire an experienced condemnation firm to assist you, the more likely it is that your rights will be fully protected.
Answers to Your Questions About the Condemnation Process in Texas
No. If you decide not to accept the final offer from the condemning authority, they will initiate a lawsuit to obtain the land. In that hearing, a judge will decide what fair and just compensation is for your property.
The laws around eminent domain can be complicated, so it is highly recommended that you hire an experienced lawyer early in the process. Some question to ask as you navigate the process:
• What, exactly, qualifies are “public use”?
• Does the entity that wants your land have eminent domain authority in Texas?
• Am I entitled to relocation costs?
• Are your rights under condemnation laws being protected?
Some questions you can ask to make sure that you find the right representation are:
• What is your experience in handling eminent domain disputes?
• Have you handled any cases similar to mine?
• Do you have any clients I can talk to as a reference?
• If I hire your firm, who will work on my case?
Case Results for Texas Condemnation Cases
In most cases, eminent domain can’t be stopped completely. However, sometimes it is possible to demonstrate that the condemning entity lacks authority to take a property. In one such case, the Texas condemnation lawyers at Dawson & Sodd represented a convenience store owner in Farmers Branch. TxDOT filed suit to take valuable land from the convenience store owner’s site as part of the I-35E project. Our attorneys took key depositions of the State’s witnesses to establish that the agency lacked didn’t have the legal authority to acquire the land. The State agreed to dismiss the condemnation action, and the landowner kept the very profitable land.
Speak With an Experienced Texas Condemnation Lawyer
If you’re a Texas property owner and have received notice that your property is facing condemnation proceedings, don’t hesitate to speak with one of the Texas eminent domain lawyers at Dawson & Sodd. We’ve never worked for a condemnation entity – our firm exclusively represents landowners in condemnation cases. Our attorneys will answer your questions, provide advice on how best to proceed in your situation, and guide you through every step of the condemnation process. You can depend on our knowledge and expertise to protect your rights and ensure you get the maximum compensation you are owed for your land.