Did you know the majority of land in Texas is still privately owned? Given the size of the state, that is pretty surprising. However, more and more the government and private companies (such as rail and pipeline companies) seek to seize property for their own use. And Texas eminent domain laws can help them to do just that.
An experienced eminent domain attorney can help enforce your landowner rights in these situations, but it is important to know what eminent domain is and the laws here in Texas.
Explaining Eminent Domain
“Eminent domain” is the inherent right of the government (or companies with permission from the government) to use or take private property for public use. It must be a legitimate public use, such as for roads, schools, libraries, utilities and parks. Compensation must also be given for the land that is to be taken.
When the government exercises its rights to eminent domain, the private property in question is usually appraised by the condemning authority and an offer will then be made to the property owner based on that appraisal. These condemnor appraisals are often well under market value and do not take into account all of the relevant facts, thus they don’t result in an offer that is the just and adequate compensation the landowner is entitled to under Texas law. When the property is actually taken under eminent domain, it is referred to as “condemnation.”
Texas Condemnation Laws
There are several laws, on the federal and state level, governing eminent domain. These laws are in place to ensure landowner rights and to help prevent government and company’s abuse of power. The two main laws to be familiar with are:
- Fair and just compensation must be paid for the property.
- The intended use of the property must be for public use or benefit.
A landowner has the right to receive fair and just compensation for their property. This is where many disputes begin, as many landowners do not feel they are offered what their property is truly worth. The attorneys at Dawson & Sodd have seen countless offers by condemning authorities that are well under market value. Unfortunately, many landowners don’t know their rights and never hire an experienced eminent domain attorney to advise them, so they receive compensation that is unfair and unjust.
It is not an easy task, but sometimes the exercise of eminent domain can be fought. If it can be proven that the land is not being condemned for public use or for a public necessity, then the property cannot be taken under law.
Of course, landowners can fight for more compensation than what they are offered by the condemning authority. It is quite common for condemning authorities to make extremely low offers to landowners to try to get property bought as cheaply as possible. However, the Texas and United States Constitutions entitle every landowner to just, fair and adequate compensation. Don’t be fooled by the condemning authorities’ threats or statements that their appraisal is the end of the word on the just compensation – this is absolutely not the case!!! Many times, condemning authorities obtain appraisals that are hundreds of times lower than the actual market value.
However, it is important to have the guidance of an eminent domain attorney in these situations. The laws are complicated and an experienced eminent domain attorney will know how to proceed with the case. With the help of an eminent domain attorney who has tried condemnation cases, you can at least fight for fair compensation if you cannot prevent your property from being condemned.
Answers to You Questions About Eminent Domain in Texas
The eminent domain process begins when an authorized condemning entity makes a plan for a public project. They must then present private property owners with three things:
• All of the written appraisals they have obtained,
• The state landowner’s bill of rights,
• And the deed, easement, or other instrument conveying the property sought to be acquired
You are not required to hire an attorney to negotiate with a condemning authority. But before you go it alone, know that the process and laws surrounding eminent domain can be complicated, so an experienced eminent domain attorney is highly recommended.
The short answer is to ask the right questions when you are searching for representation.
• What kind of experience does your firm have handling eminent domain disputes?
• Have you handled cases similar to mine?
• Have you represented clients in my area?
• Do you represent any condemning authorities, requiring you to take positions contrary to landowners’ best interests?
• Do you have any clients I can talk to as a reference?
Trial and Appellate Court Victory in Pipeline Eminent Domain Case
Dawson & Sodd were pleased to help Denton County landowners Terry and Ossie Button win their long-running battle with Crosstex Energy. The Fort Worth Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict based on evidence that the company’s natural gas pipeline easement across the landowners’ undeveloped property diminished the land value and limited what the family could do with their land in the future.
Crosstex originally offered $44,955; a jury awarded the landowners $873,824. The net recovery to the landowners after fees and litigation expenses was $609,193.36 (inclusive of the Special Commissioners’ Award).
Getting Help from a Texas Eminent Domain Lawyer
Texans are protected by certain landowner rights when it comes to eminent domain and condemnation. When the government or a company attempts to take or use any part of your land, the knowledge and guidance of a Texas eminent domain lawyer can help.
Dawson & Sodd, LLP has over 35 years of experience with eminent domain and condemnation cases. Fill out our contact form online or call 903-872-8181 (Corsicana) or 214-373-8181 (Dallas) for an initial consultation. You can also visit our Eminent Domain FAQ page for more information.