Landowners in Texas enjoy some of the strongest legal protections in the country. However, it can be confusing for a property owner to receive a condemnation notice informing them that a government entity intends to seize their land in exchange for compensation. Many people do not know how to respond to a condemnation notice, and they often feel overwhelmed and concerned about what to do. First, it’s essential to understand that only certain governmental agencies have what’s called eminent domain authority—the Constitutional right to seize private property and convert it into a project benefiting the public in some way. When an entity wishes to exercise its eminent domain power, it will issue a condemnation notice to the affected property owners. Whether you have just heard about a potential project in your community or you’ve received a condemnation letter, consider contacting a knowledgeable and experienced attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. This post will explore the potential benefits and drawbacks of eminent domain actions, as well as what steps to take when facing the condemnation process in Texas.
Defining Eminent Domain
Eminent domain refers to the government’s authority to take private property for public use. This right is guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment, provided the government offers “just compensation” to the property owner in exchange for seizing their land. When an entity wishes to exercise its eminent domain authority, it will provide the affected property owner with a condemnation letter. Unfortunately, most landowners read the notice and do not recognize that they have the right to push for a more favorable amount of compensation. The condemnation notice often includes a settlement offer that fails to take the property’s market value into account, leading many trusting landowners to simply accept this offer and lose out on the full amount of compensation they deserve. Enlisting the guidance of a seasoned eminent domain lawyer is the best way to ensure your best interests remain protected at every stage of the condemnation process.
The Upsides of Eminent Domain Projects
While landowners impacted by condemnation may not see many advantages to this process, it’s worth taking some time to identify the potential benefits of eminent domain for public use. Below are a few of the pros to welcoming an eminent domain project into your community.
New Roadways and Improved Traffic Flow
Many eminent domain projects include the construction or expansion of a highway or road. While the construction may displace some homes and properties, the public often benefits from fewer congested highways and reduced travel time between destinations. Improved roadways may also invite more industries to your area, bringing economic benefits as well.
Greener Spaces and Educational Benefits
Eminent domain can also be used to install a new public park or school. These are welcome additions to any community, as they provide more opportunities for individuals and families to enjoy the outdoors, exercise, and connect with one another. Constructing a new school can bring more families to the area and ease overcrowding at neighboring schools. A government agency may also exercise its eminent domain authority to build a public library, bringing the community together and increasing access to books, computers, and other literacy tools.
Recognizing the Drawbacks of Eminent Domain
Of course, property owners affected by eminent domain often feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Although eminent domain projects can bring several benefits to the public, individuals impacted by these projects can feel targeted and alone in their fight to remain in possession of their property. Below are some of the downsides of eminent domain projects that may occur.
The Potential For Abuse
Although many eminent domain projects move forward legitimately, there are circumstances in which an entity may attempt to abuse or exploit this power. For instance, an entity may try to use eminent domain power to create a for-profit business that does not necessarily benefit the public. There are laws in place to discourage such behavior, but that doesn’t mean that some entities have used eminent domain to justify seizing private property for their own benefit and not the public’s benefit.
Many eminent domain projects target poor or working-class communities. Unfortunately, residents in these areas often fail to understand their legal rights during the condemnation process. They may assume that they have no say in the matter and accept the lowball offer because they see no other option. As a result, these entities can move forward with their projects and pay as little as possible to the affected landowners.
Contact a Dedicated Condemnation Lawyer Today
As soon as you learn of an upcoming construction project in your area, you should reach out to a knowledgeable and caring condemnation lawyer to discuss your options. Your lawyer will assess the situation and help you understand your options for securing truly “just” and fair compensation. Or, your lawyer may decide to challenge the entity’s ability to exercise its eminent domain power in the first place. Whatever path you end up taking, you can trust that your lawyer will remain at your side to answer your questions, address your concerns, and support you at every turn.
Sewell Sewell Beard LLC helps landowners navigate and resolve eminent domain and condemnation matters. Call our Alabama office at (205) 544-2350 or our Texas office at (972) 777-5390 today to get started.