Texas is full of natural resources, beautiful landscapes, and wide-open space. Unfortunately, these benefits often leave Texas landowners vulnerable to the government. If the land could be useful for the public, a government agency or utility company may exercise eminent domain to take control of the property.
Eminent domain is a constitutional right that the government holds to acquire land within the country for public good. Government agencies and authorized private entities, such as public utility companies, can acquire this land through the legal process of condemnation. There are a number of important rights Texas landowners hold during the condemnation process, including the right to fair compensation.
When Is the Government Allowed to Take Your Property?
A government agency or authorized entity can only take your property if it needs the land to serve the general public. This means that the government can only take your property if the purpose of the intended project is in the best interest of the public, not for economic gain or tax revenue. Common projects that lead to condemnation include the following:
- Building a new road or highway
- Constructing bridges, public buildings, or parks
- Installing new water, power, or gas lines
Laws Explaining Landowners’ Rights in Texas
Since the exercise of eminent domain is so common in the state, Texas enforces a number of laws to protect landowners’ rights and establish the acquisition process. One of most important pieces of legislation is Article I, Section 17 of the Texas Constitution, also known as the takings clause.
This clause states that the government cannot take, damage, destroy, or apply the property for public use without providing adequate compensation to the property owner. The agency or public utility company must provide this compensation or a security deposit prior to taking possession of the land. However, if the agency exercising eminent domain is acting on behalf of the state of Texas, it does not need to provide compensation upfront.
Another important Texas statute that protects landowners’ rights is Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code. This law provides a framework for the acquisition of property through eminent domain. Texas is a quick-take state, which allows the condemning authorities to acquire property rights before the eminent domain process ends and the landowner receives full compensation.
What Options Do You Have if Your Property is Being Taken?
There are two important rules the government must fulfill when it exercises eminent domain: it must provide fair compensation to the landowner, and it must use the land for the public good. Once you receive notice that you will need to relinquish your property due to eminent domain, you will enter the condemnation process. Throughout this process, you will have the opportunity to fight for fair compensation and possibly revoke authorization for the project.
First, the condemning authority will file a lawsuit in court and a judge will appoint three landowners to act as special commissioners. You will attend a scheduled hearing where the commissioners will determine what qualifies as adequate compensation for your property.
If you want to contest the condemnation of your land, you can file an appeal. This will convert your case into a judicial proceeding, where you will typically attend a jury trial. During trial, you and your attorney will make your case and a court will determine whether the proposed project serves the public. If the court determines there is no public use, you may be able to repurchase your land at the price you were paid at the time of condemnation.
Eminent domain is a complex legal area, and if you are facing condemnation, speak to a Texas eminent domain attorney. Your lawyer will examine the facts of your case and help you determine your next steps, whether that be fighting for a fair appraisal or appealing the decision to take your property.