Eminent domain is a fact of life in Texas, but you aren’t powerless against it. Anyone who claims eminent domain — the government, a utility company or someone else — has to follow the proper procedures to ensure that you’re treated fairly. If they don’t, you can assert your rights. Just because someone has offered you compensation under eminent domain doesn’t mean you have to accept it.
Eminent Domain: What It Is
Eminent domain is a power that the government has to use or take private land for public use, such as building roads, schools, utilities or other things that benefit the public. The constitutions of both Texas and the United States protect this power. However, it’s not unlimited. Property owners must receive fair compensation.
Eminent Domain Defense
You have several avenues to challenge eminent domain claims. Maybe you can argue that the proposed project isn’t actually for public use, or isn’t a necessity. Maybe you can argue that the entity claiming eminent domain doesn’t have the right to do so. Maybe the proposed route or blueprint for the project doesn’t make sense and wouldn’t have to involve your property. The list of possible defenses is long.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that the eminent domain claim is a legitimate one. They make you an offer for your property, but it seems low. Do you have to accept it?
The short answer is “no.” Many eminent domain compensation offers are low, simply because people would rather pay you as little as possible. Remember, as a property owner, you’re entitled to “just and adequate” compensation, not just whatever someone is willing to pay.
Rejecting The Offer: What Happens?
If you reject the initial offer, you may receive an updated final offer. If that’s still too low — if it’s not just and adequate — you can reject it as well.
At this point, you’ll likely enter what’s called “condemnation” proceedings, which is the process by which property is taken through eminent domain. There will be a Special Commissioners hearing at which you and the condemning authority will present evidence of the property’s true value, and three Special Commissioners will make a decision of what they believe the value is.
After this process, if you still don’t agree with the value, you can challenge it in civil court.
A Complex Process
Eminent domain may seem like just another real estate transaction where two sides negotiate over a final price, but it’s far more complex than that. Property value appraisal procedures, usage rules, compensation types and legal deadlines combine to form a maze that can be difficult to navigate. You want to ensure that you receive the greatest level of compensation that the law allows and that you don’t mistakenly surrender rights you didn’t know you had. To do that, a staunch legal advocate on your side is an absolute necessity.