The Evolving Landscape of Condemnation Law in Texas

Pink Sewell Sewell Beard icon divider

Texas condemnation laws are designed to protect private property owners. However, some entities in the oil and gas sectors may initiate condemnation proceedings against impacted landowners. Enlist the guidance of a skilled condemnation attorney to learn more.

Landowners in Texas enjoy some of the most robust legal protections in the country. Since its inception, Texas has placed tremendous value on land ownership, and many of its laws reflect this belief. However, there are certain circumstances in which a qualifying government entity may invoke the constitutional power of eminent domain to seize private property in order to use it in a project that benefits the public in some way. A common example of an eminent domain action is a state or federal Department of Transportation that needs to use privately owned property to construct a new highway. The creation of this new highway will improve traffic flow and relieve congestion in the community—a benefit to travelers and residents alike. Essentially, the Department of Transportation may invoke its eminent domain authority to take the private land from the owner for this construction purpose, providing “just” compensation to the landowner in return.

When an entity exercises eminent domain power, it triggers a legal process called condemnation. Although most entities that have eminent domain power are government entities, oil and gas companies in Texas may also enjoy this power. Texas condemnation laws, especially those relating to oil and gas companies and their proposed projects, can be extremely complex to navigate as a private landowner. If you are facing an eminent domain or condemnation action that will impact your property, contact a skilled and experienced Texas condemnation attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options and understand your rights. Let’s take a look at how the condemnation process works in Texas and how the state’s condemnation laws address projects involving gas or oil companies.

The Condemnation Process in Texas

First, it’s important to understand how Texas handles eminent domain and condemnation matters. According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, “Eminent domain is the legal authority that certain entities are granted that allows those entities to take private property for public use. Private property can include land and certain improvements that are on that property.” In other words, the state recognizes that certain qualifying bodies have the legal right to take privately owned property only when the proposed project will benefit the public in some way. Moreover, Texas eminent domain laws explicitly state that an authority is prohibited from taking private property to enhance tax revenues or to foster economic growth. These justifications do not qualify as benefiting the public interest. When an authority that has eminent domain power wishes to seize property for a project that will benefit the community, it will initiate a legal process known as condemnation. Below are the steps that are typically involved once a condemnation action begins.

Informing the Property Owner of Their Rights

The condemning authority must provide the landowner with a copy of the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights before it initiates the condemnation process. Texas eminent domain laws insist that a condemning authority must give the impacted landowners formal, written notification of their legal rights well in advance of the proceedings. As the landowner, you must allow the entity to access the property for a valuation and appraisal. The entity will use its assessments to prepare a bona fide offer of compensation in exchange for taking your land.

Responding to the Entity’s Condemnation Notice and Offer

As a landowner in Texas, it’s essential that you recognize your legal right to disagree with the condemning authority’s compensation offer. Unfortunately, most condemnation letters are written in such a way that the recipients often feel as if they have no choice but to accept the offer. You have the right to hire an attorney and involve an independent third party to appraise your property. Once you notify the condemning authority that you disagree with their valuation of the property, the party may file a Petition for your property in court.

Special Commissioners’ Hearing

After the condemning authority has filed a condemnation Petition in court, the judge will appoint three local landowners to serve as special commissioners. At the hearing, the special commissioners will evaluate your evidence on the valuation of your property (among many other considerations) and issue an award. You will need to have developed your evidence and be prepared to offer it at this hearing. That’s why it is important to have retained your condemnation attorney and independent condemnation appraiser well in advance because it takes time to put your case together. It is also important to note that you have the right to formally reject the special commissioners’ award and appeal the matter to the District Court to be determined by a judge or jury.

Texas Condemnation Involving Oil and Gas Projects

As the demand for oil and gas exploded in the 20th century, the Natural Gas Act was passed to grant regulatory power over the transportation and sale of natural gas used in “interstate and foreign commerce” to the United States government. This legislation also grants eminent domain authority to entities that propose to construct pipelines for transporting natural gas. As a result, oil and gas companies in Texas usually have the right to initiate condemnation proceedings against private landowners. According to the Texas Railroad Commission, “common carrier pipelines in Texas have a statutory right of eminent domain. Common carrier pipelines are those that transport oil, oil products, gas, carbon dioxide, salt brine, sand, clay, liquefied minerals or other mineral solutions.”

Essentially, any project that involves the transport of gas, oil, or other products for domestic or international sale or use may involve the use of eminent domain power. However, landowners facing condemnation proceedings have the right to hire a knowledgeable Texas condemnation lawyer to help them understand their legal rights and options in these types of matters. Regardless of the specific circumstances you are facing, consider working with a dedicated and caring condemnation attorney who will advocate for your best interests and help you push for a more fair and favorable amount of condemnation from the condemning authority.

If you are a landowner in Texas or Alabama and you believe you may be facing an eminent domain or condemnation action in the near future, get in touch with the dedicated and experienced legal professionals at Sewell Sewell Beard LLC to discuss your options. We’ve been doing this for 39 years. Call our Texas office at (972) 777-5390 or our Alabama office at (205) 544-2350 today to learn more.