Private property rights can be complicated and you can generally bet there will be trouble when those rights are in question. In Texas, there are laws that allow certain companies to use the government structure to gain the right to use someone else’s property for the public good. When it is someone else’s property that is condemned for use by a government entity, it is doesn’t seem fair. However, when it is your property that a company wants to get an easement for, you may feel violated and frustrated with laws that even allow for this.

There are federal and state laws, constitutions, acts, and recent court cases about eminent domain and how the legalities work. Let’s take a look at some of your property rights in Texas and what to do about companies that want to compensate you to use your property.

Government Use of Eminent Domain

Government letting companies who need land come through and declare eminent domain has been at odds for generations with ecological groups trying to preserve natural resources and landowners who will not stand for the taking of their inherent property rights. 

  • Environmental Groups

These groups include those who want the right to protect resources and nurture the land for future generations or are concerned about the rights of indigenous peoples.

  • Landowners 

Believe that eminent domain should not have precedence over their own desires for their property and should only ever apply to building a necessary road or building and NOT to changing their rights on their own property based on the whims of policymakers or putting a large pipeline through. 

  • Government Officials, Politicians, Officers of the Law

These officials look to the laws which allow companies to petition for a condemnation of a property so that they can use it for “public good”. They spend time discussing which companies and uses are actually for the public good and enforcing the legislation that is passed in Texas and the precedents that are set in courts across the state.

Property Laws in Texas

Governor Bush signed a new act into law The State of Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights to help specify which laws apply and how they apply to Texas landowners. This bill of rights was an effort to help landowner’s who were struggling with understanding eminent domain and what was legal at the time. 

It is the Texas state government’s position that eminent domain is the legal authority that allows certain entities to take private property for a public use. Private property can include land and improvements on your property. Private property can only be taken or used when the government authorizes it by law to be used for the general public’s purposes. Authorities cannot take your property for tax purposes or to help the economy. 

Your property can only be taken with adequate compensation of market value for your property including property damage monies if the market value was hurt by what is happening.

The Texas Farm Bureau also put out a publication helping land owners at Eminent Domain in Texas: A Landowner’s Guide”. This handbook was intended “to help educate Texas landowners on the laws regarding eminent domain, their rights in the process, and to empower landowners with additional resources to best protect their land, their operations, and their livelihood”. NPR published a State Impact blog in recent years about this issue in Texas.

Property Threatened by Condemnation

If a company is trying to gain an eminent domain claim on your property for their use and you don’t agree to the settlement, the company will likely file suit against you in either the district or county court of law.

What Happens Next

  1. If they have made a bona fide offer that you refused and you are unable to agree with them on compensation for your property, you are likely to go to court over the matter.
  2. They have to submit a petition containing a description of the property that they wish to “condemn” for public use, why they want to use it and your name, and the name of their company. However you can still negotiate at this point and often once the matter is likely to go to court, you may even get a better offer from the company.
  3. After the petition is filed, the judge appoints three local landowners to sit as “special commissioners” to determine adequate compensation. They are only authorized to determine the proper monetary compensation owed to the landowner, not whether this should be happening at all.
  4. A hearing is set where the landowner can present their evidence and call witnesses to establish a settlement figure.

The Hearing

Deciding whether to attend the hearing could affect your right to make future challenges to the company’s right to take the land. From some litigator’s perspectives, it may be better to refuse participation if you are challenging the right of the eminent domain in the first place.

Attending the hearing and offering evidence or witnesses confirms your acceptance of the special commissioner’s court. It may be better to work with a lawyer to appeal the case and not attend the hearing.

Company Can Take Charge of Property 

(Even if There is a Pending Case)

At the hearing, the special commissioners decide the amount of compensation to be paid to the landowner for the easement. At this point the company making the condemnation plea can take charge of the property in question.

According to Eminent Domain in Texas: A Landowner’s Guide, “This can be a frustrating situation for the landowner—as this right to possession would allow a pipeline company, for example—to immediately begin construction of the line, even though the case was still pending on appeal and even though the landowner had not yet been able to challenge the pipeline’s right to condemn.”

What can a Landowner Do?

If you have a government or political group that you believe is taking your rights as a land or homeowner in Texas, contact an attorney specializing in real estate law to see if your case has merit. The laws surrounding eminent domain can be complicated and it’s always best to see what your options are before taking any action.

Seek Counsel

A real estate attorney knows and understands the laws in Texas and how the system works at the local level. At Jarrett Law, we work to help you get the highest compensation possible for your property or to fight the condemnation completely at the highest levels necessary to keep your property rights intact. Contact us for a free consultation and evaluation of your case today. It can be hard to know who is with you in cases such as this, but with us on your side, you can know that we are fighting for your best interests and you are not alone.