What Are Your Rights in Eminent Domain as a Texas Property Owner?
We frequently get questions about the rights of Texas property owners in eminent domain actions. This article is written by Attorney Philip Hundl and it was originally published as an article in the Catholic Union of Texas News. Mr. Hundl serves as the State Attorney for the Catholic Union of Texas.
Question: I have been contacted by a pipeline company that says it has the right to “take” my land by eminent domain. What can I do and what are my rights?
Believe it or not many Texans are affected by eminent domain and the condemnation process at some time in their lives because of a pipeline crossing their property, the expansion of an adjacent road or highway or, now, maybe even a border wall, if you live in South Texas!
The Governments’ Rights in Eminent Domain
“Eminent Domain” refers to the inherent right of the government to take private property for a public use. Private entities also may have the power of eminent domain if allowed by the law and if their project is considered a public use.
Sometimes you will hear the term “Condemnation.” “Condemnation” is the legal process and procedure used by public or private entities with the power of eminent domain for the taking of a landowner’s land.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 17, of the Texas Constitution provide for and guarantee that a property owner will receive just compensation for the taking. If the government/private company (Condemnor) and Landowner cannot reach an agreement on compensation, then, “just compensation” is determined judicially through the condemnation process established by law.
Public Uses in Eminent Domain
The Condemnor only has the right to take the property for a public use and only the amount needed for that public use. Legitimate public uses include public roads, parks, libraries and utility projects. Many other private projects have also been deemed “for the public use” often include oil and gas pipelines, high voltage power lines, meter stations, drainage canals and water lines or canals.
Your Rights in Eminent Domain
If your land is going to be taken by the government or private company in condemnation, you are entitled to certain timely notices and information throughout the condemnation process. The Condemnor must appraise the property it plans to take to determine fair compensation. Further, the Condemnor must provide you with the appraisal and make you an offer.
You don’t have to accept the initial offer. If you choose to decline the offer, the Condemnor must continue the process of condemnation which includes the appointment of special commissioners, a commissioners’ hearing and award of compensation and possible trial proceeding if the commissioners’ award is rejected by either party.
However, once an award of compensation is deposited by the Condemnor with the court, typically the Condemnor may access your property and begin the project, even before just and adequate compensation has been determined by the Court.
Although most Landowners would like to stop or avoid an eminent domain project altogether, in most cases that option is not available. However, if a condemnation project is not for a “legitimate public use” then that project could be stopped or prevented.
Philip J. Hundl is State Attorney for the K.J.T. and a shareholder in the law firm of Wadler, Perches, Hundl & Kerlick with offices in Wharton, El Campo, Richmond and Fulshear, Texas. Call us at 800-929-1725 for more information or use our contact form to send us an email.