When you purchase a home, the last thing on your mind is picturing a government entity invoking its legal authority to seize your property in what’s known as a condemnation proceeding. As a landowner in Texas, you enjoy some of the strongest protections in the country. However, there are certain instances in which an approved federal, state, or local government entity (i.e., The Department of Transportation) may use its constitutional power (called eminent domain) to seize your property for use in a project that benefits the public in some way. For example, Texas may announce an expansion project to address traffic issues on a state highway. In order to construct a wider highway, the government may invoke its eminent domain power to take your property and convert it for public use. However, the body exercising its eminent domain authority must provide compensation to the property owner in exchange for seizing their land. Eminent domain and condemnation matters concern both commercial and residential property, but the specific details may differ slightly. As soon as you hear about a potential construction project in your community, it’s best to contact an experienced and knowledgeable Texas condemnation attorney to discuss your options. Your condemnation lawyer will help you understand your legal rights at every stage of the condemnation process to ensure that you obtain the most favorable outcome possible, given the circumstances.
Understanding What Condemnation Means in Texas
Before we explore the differences between commercial and residential condemnation proceedings, it’s helpful to understand how Texas defines the terms “eminent domain” and “condemnation.” According to the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, “Eminent domain is defined as the power of the sovereign (or government) to take private property for public use. Condemnation is the procedure by which the taking or appropriation occurs. Thus, the former is the power, the latter is the process.” There are several criteria that an entity must fulfill in order to exercise its eminent domain power and initiate condemnation proceedings.
Defining Public Use
First, the proposed project must benefit the public in some way. Although no standard or one-size-fits-all definition exists for the term public use, it’s generally understood that the project must be open to the public or alleviate existing issues impacting the public, such as traffic congestion or crowded public schools. Essentially, eminent domain power may not be used if the project bestows a private benefit on a private party. Common examples of eminent domain projects that meet the public use criteria include highway expansion, construction of a new public school, library, or park, and public transportation development.
The Texas Constitution expressly states that property owners must receive compensation in exchange for their land. The statute reads, “No person’s property shall be taken, damaged or destroyed for or applied to public use without adequate compensation being made, unless by the consent of such person.” Unfortunately, the term “adequate compensation” can be frustratingly vague for landowners, as it leaves room for a wide range of offers. The condemning authority will often try to compensate landowners as little as possible in exchange for their land, and many people do not recognize that they have the legal right to negotiate a more fair and favorable compensation offer. Working with a seasoned Texas condemnation lawyer is the best way to maximize your settlement offer to ensure that you obtain the compensation you need to move forward.
Navigating the Condemnation Process in Texas
As a property owner, receiving a condemnation notice can be an overwhelming and confusing experience. Suddenly, you wonder whether you have any legal rights to contest this action or push for a more equitable settlement offer. It’s always best to enlist the guidance of a Texas condemnation attorney as soon as possible to determine the most strategic path forward. Let’s take a look at what you can expect during condemnation proceedings for residential or commercial property.
Residential Property and Condemnation
Texas provides some of the nation’s strongest legal protections for property owners. The Landowner’s Bill of Rights outlines the specific legal rights that property owners have in the face of eminent domain and condemnation actions. For example, this document states that the condemning entity “must make a bona fide offer to buy the property before it files a lawsuit to condemn the property—meaning the condemning entity must make a good faith offer.” Additionally, landowners have the right to hire an independent appraiser or other professional to determine the current and future market value of the property. It is critically important to hire an appraiser who is experienced in condemnation appraisal work because the methodology for a condemnation appraisal is very different from other types of appraisals. This information can be used to negotiate a more favorable settlement offer. Property owners also have the option to take the matter before a board of special commissioners, who will decide what amount of compensation is adequate to pay you for your property. Those unsatisfied with the commissioners’ decision have the right to take the case to trial before a judge or jury. Working with a trusted and dedicated Texas eminent domain lawyer can help you move through every step of the process with greater clarity and confidence.
Condemnation of Commercial Property in Texas
The condemnation process applies to both residential and commercial land. However, commercial property may require additional considerations, especially if the land in question is owned by one entity that leases space to several business owners. In such cases, addressing the substantial financial impact of the taking of land on existing businesses can take time and become complicated to navigate. For instance, if you are renting a retail space and the landowner informs you of an upcoming condemnation action, relocating your business may mean that you will lose out on foot traffic or have trouble finding new customers. These factors must be considered and addressed during the condemnation process. Reach out to a skilled Texas condemnation lawyer who can answer your questions, address your concerns, and maximize your award.
Condemnation and eminent domain matters are challenging to navigate, and it’s essential for landowners to understand their legal rights during these proceedings. The dedicated and experienced legal team at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC is prepared to protect your best interests at every turn. We’ve been doing this for 39 years. Call our Jasper, Alabama office at (205) 544-2350 or our Prosper, Texas office at (972) 777-5390 today to get started.