Public-Private Partnerships and Condemnation in Texas: Navigating Complexities

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While public entities have the right to condemn private property for public use, Texas extends this right to certain qualifying private entities as well. As a Texas landowner, it’s essential to understand your legal rights and options when facing a condemnation action.

When a new highway needs to be constructed, the state or federal Department of Transportation will need to determine the ideal location for this endeavor. If the proposed construction project needs to be built in an area where residential or commercial properties already exist, these government entities have the right to exercise their eminent domain authority granted to them by the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution articulates this power, defining eminent domain as “the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use.” However, eminent domain power may only be exercised if the entity provides just compensation to the affected property owners. As a property owner in Texas, you may be surprised to receive a notice of an impending eminent domain action that will affect your land. When the government entity decides to invoke its eminent domain power, it will initiate condemnation proceedings against the property owners.

Unfortunately, many property owners do not understand that they have legal rights in the face of condemnation proceedings; condemnation letters are often worded in such a way that makes it seem as if the owner has no choice but to accept the terms of the seizure of their property. Moreover, it’s critical to understand that Texas does allow certain qualifying private entities to exercise eminent domain authority, but these matters can be incredibly nuanced and complex to navigate. If you are facing an upcoming eminent domain or condemnation issue in your community, it’s best to enlist the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced Texas condemnation attorney to advocate for your best interests at every turn. Let’s take a closer look at the condemnation process in Texas and the steps you can take to obtain a fair and favorable outcome.

Who Has Eminent Domain Authority in Texas?

First, it’s helpful to understand the purpose of eminent domain power and which entities qualify for this authority in Texas. Essentially, state and federal governments recognize that there are times in which improvements require the conversion of private property into publicly available and accessible projects. For example, building a new public school in an area where the population is steadily growing is seen as a public necessity, so the Department of Education may invoke its eminent domain power to take private property and convert it into the school grounds. However, the condemning authority must provide “just compensation” in exchange for seizing the property, and this offer must be made in good faith. According to a document released by the Texas Legislative Council, the state recognizes several bodies that have the right to invoke eminent domain authority. Governmental entities, airport authorities, county and city bodies, public hospitals, school districts, municipal water districts, and many other bodies may exercise eminent domain power and initiate condemnation proceedings against private landowners, provided that the proposed project will benefit the public in some way.

Some Private Entities Have Eminent Domain Power in Texas

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Kelo v. New London that granted eminent domain power to certain private entities whose projected economic development could be considered a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Since this ruling, Texas has passed laws that impose limits on the use of eminent domain for commercial purposes. Many states, including Texas, allow “common carriers” to exercise eminent domain authority. Examples of common carriers that have been successful in exercising eminent domain power in Texas include gas and electric corporations, telephone corporations, utility companies, waterworks and sewer service corporations, spaceport development corporations, and several others. In Texas, the State Comptroller’s Office maintains and updates a publicly accessible list of the entities that are authorized to invoke eminent domain power in the state. If you have received a condemnation notice and you are wondering whether the condemning authority has the legal right to invoke eminent domain power, reach out to a seasoned Texas eminent domain lawyer to discuss your concerns. Depending on the specifics of your situation, you may be able to challenge and defeat the entity’s legal authority to seize your property, negotiate for a more equitable amount of compensation, or litigate to obtain what you are entitled to receive under Texas law.

Understanding Your Rights as a Texas Property Owner

Texas has some of the most robust legal protections for private property owners. Owning land is a source of pride for many Texans, and it’s essential to understand your legal rights in the face of a condemnation action. The Texas Attorney General’s Office has published the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights, which informs property owners of their rights during the condemnation process. The condemning authority must provide a copy of these rights when it initiates condemnation proceedings. For instance, Texas property owners have the right to hire an attorney, work with an independent appraiser to determine the value of their property, and appear at a hearing before a court-appointed panel of three special commissioners to recover a more equitable compensation award. You also have the right to challenge the entity’s right to condemn your property by filing a motion to dismiss the condemnation proceeding.

Discuss Your Options With a Texas Condemnation Lawyer Today

Receiving a condemnation letter can be overwhelming and confusing, especially if you are unsure of what to expect in the upcoming days, weeks, and months. Suddenly, you are facing an uncertain future that may involve uprooting your life and moving away from your beloved home. Eminent domain and condemnation matters are inherently complex and nuanced, so it’s best to work with a trusted and experienced Texas condemnation lawyer to ensure that you make informed decisions with greater confidence. No matter what the specific circumstances of your case may be, you can trust that your attorney will work hard to answer your questions, address your concerns, and advocate passionately on your behalf.

Condemnation and eminent domain issues can be complicated to understand. We’ve been doing this for 40 years. If you are facing an upcoming condemnation action, reach out to the dedicated and experienced eminent domain attorneys at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC to discuss your legal options. Call our Texas office at (972) 777-5390 or our Alabama office at (205) 544-2350 today to get started.