Condemnation Appeals: Legal Recourse for Dissatisfied Property Owners

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Property owners in Texas and Alabama have the option to appeal a condemnation decision if they are not satisfied with the ruling. Enlisting the guidance of a knowledgeable condemnation lawyer is the best way to ensure that you obtain your desired outcome.

Texas and Alabama have some of the strongest legal protections for property owners in the country. These states recognize the value of owning land, whether it has been handed down through generations or recently purchased by a first-time owner. Once you own a property, you have the right to enjoy it and protect it. However, there are times when a governmental entity has the right to invoke its constitutional power (known as eminent domain) to seize private property for projects intended to benefit the public. For instance, the Department of Transportation may use its eminent domain power to acquire private property in order to construct a new highway—the ultimate goal of which is to ease traffic congestion and make life more pleasant for drivers and the public at large. When an entity wants to invoke eminent domain authority, it will initiate a legal process called condemnation. The condemning authority must provide the affected property owners with “just” compensation in exchange for seizing the land. Unfortunately, many landowners are not aware of their legal rights and options during this process, and they often assume that they have no choice but to hand over their property and accept a first and sometimes lowball offer. Moreover, many landowners are not aware of their right to appeal a condemnation ruling if they are unhappy with the decision. Regardless of what the details of your situation may be, it’s always a good idea to work with a trusted and experienced condemnation attorney who can advocate for your best interests and empower you to move forward with greater certainty, confidence, and success. Let’s take a look at how eminent domain and condemnation proceedings typically unfold and how you can appeal a ruling if you are not satisfied with the decision.

Eminent Domain Basics

First, it’s helpful to understand what eminent domain is and how this power can be used for construction projects that are intended for public use. Eminent domain power is outlined in both federal and state constitutions. Essentially, it grants sovereign governments (and their departments) the right to take private property for public use. In Texas and Alabama, eminent domain may also be exercised by cities, counties, and other bodies vested with the right to take property for public use. In exchange for seizing private property, the entity exercising eminent domain power must provide the owner with “just” compensation. Once an authority decides to invoke its eminent domain power, it will send a condemnation notice to the affected property owners and initiate condemnation proceedings in the Probate Court where the land is located.

Understanding the Steps of the Condemnation Process

Many landowners are surprised and caught off guard when a government entity informs them of its intention to seize their property. Suddenly, the homeowner faces an uncertain future, and they often feel powerless to push back against the condemning authority or negotiate a fairer outcome. It’s essential to recognize that you do not have to navigate the intimidating condemnation process on your own. Instead, consider working with a skilled and experienced condemnation attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and options in the face of these proceedings. Below are some of the steps that property owners can expect to encounter during the condemnation process.

Appraisal and Offer

One of the initial stages of the condemnation process occurs when the condemning authority has the private land appraised to determine the amount of compensation it should offer the owner in exchange for the land. However, the term “just compensation” leaves plenty of room for lowball offers, so don’t be surprised if the authority’s written notice with the offer dramatically undervalues what you believe to be your property’s true worth. You do not have to accept this offer; instead, you can work with your attorney to involve an independent and experienced condemnation appraiser who can provide a more accurate and comprehensive property valuation performed by the methodology required by law. Those methodologies are quite different from what most people have experienced with other appraisals.

Taking the Matter to Probate Court

Once a condemnation action is filed with the court, the Judge of Probate will appoint three impartial citizens to serve as commissioners. The commissioners will hold a hearing to receive and review evidence relating to compensation matters. Within a fixed number of days after being appointed, the commissioners must complete and send a written report to the Probate Court that states the amount of damages and compensation the condemning authority must pay to the landowner. The Probate Judge will review this report and issue an order to formalize the matter. Upon the issue of this order, the condemning authority must pay the damages and compensation within a fixed number of days.

Appealing a Condemnation Order

It’s important to recognize that any party may appeal the Probate Judge’s order after it has been issued, as long as the party files the appeal within the time fixed by law. When a party appeals an order, the case moves to the circuit court in Alabama or the district court in Texas. The entire matter begins anew, meaning that the property owner may challenge the condemnor’s right to condemn in the first place. The circuit or district court makes this determination without a jury. If the court approves the entity’s right to condemn, the case may be decided by a jury trial. Since jury trials can be lengthy and stressful for all parties involved, property owners should retain legal counsel to maximize their chances of obtaining a fair and favorable verdict. Your seasoned condemnation lawyer will work closely with you to answer your questions, address your concerns, and support you during every step of the legal process. You are never alone during this challenging time when you have a trusted legal advocate in your corner. Whether you are deeply involved in a condemnation action or you are just learning of a potential condemnation project in your area, reach out to an eminent domain lawyer today to discuss your options.

If you need help with an upcoming condemnation or eminent domain issue that will impact your property, the dedicated legal team at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC is here to assist you. 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.