WHAT IS EMINENT DOMAIN?
When people hear the term eminent domain, they often think of it as the government taking land from property owners. It is correct that the government has the right to take private property to use it for a public use. However, the government agency must offer adequate compensation for the land.
If you have been notified that your property may be acquired through eminent domain, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to learn about your legal rights and options.
EMINENT DOMAIN DEFINITION
Eminent domain is the right granted by the U.S. Constitution of the government to take private property for public use. In Texas, railroads, power line companies, pipeline companies, water authorities, telephone companies and municipal utility districts as well as federal, state and county governments have eminent domain authority.
Eminent domain is achieved by a legal process called condemnation. In this usage of the term, condemnation does not refer to property that has been declared unsafe. It simply means that the government or other eligible entity is exercising its right to eminent domain. In a statutory condemnation lawsuit, the condemning entity files a petition to acquire an interest in land for a stated public use.
EMINENT DOMAIN EXAMPLES
According to Texas eminent domain law, an entity is only allowed to take private property for legitimate public use, such as:
- Building public roads and highways
- Constructing a public school or library
- Creating a municipal park
- Providing utilities
- Oil or gas pipelines
- Airports, military bases, or railroads
HOW DO EMINENT DOMAIN CASES WORK?
When a condemning entity seeks to take property, it often will hire an acquisition firm to attempt to acquire the desired property. The property owner will typically receive an introductory letter that identifies the property as being necessary for a certain project. The acquiring agency may seek to obtain the property voluntarily or through certain steps that are required before filing a condemnation lawsuit.
Before a condemning entity files an eminent domain lawsuit, it will have the right to enter the property for the purpose of surveying the property and conducting certain environmental assessments. Sometimes these investigations will take many months or even years to complete before a determination is made.
A property owner who refuses to allow access to the property may have a temporary restraining order filed against them so that the condemning entity can access the property and conduct the necessary survey and assessments. This appraisal will be used to determine fair compensation for the property.
Both the property owner and the acquiring entity are able to submit evidence supporting the fair market value of the property. Court-appointed commissioners will be tasked with establishing an amount that must be deposited before the acquiring entity can take possession of the land.
DO I HAVE TO ACCEPT THE GOVERNMENT’S OFFER?
If the government or other entity makes an offer, the property owner is not required to accept it. However, the government can still force eminent domain and take the property from the property owner.
Property owners who are interested in fighting eminent domain should discuss their legal rights and options with an attorney as soon as possible.
In most eminent domain cases, the property owner must show that the government is acting improperly in order to stop the property from being acquired. An experienced eminent domain lawyer will understand the intricacies of eminent domain law and can help you fight against property acquisition and potential eminent domain abuse.
Before you accept or reject an offer, consult with an eminent domain law firm to discuss your legal options. Although the government is supposed to offer you fair price for the land they seize, the amount is often determined by the government. Eminent domain lawyers can fight for you to get an actual fair market value for the property.
GET LEGAL HELP
Eminent domain law is highly complex and can have a big impact on your property rights and property value. For this reason, eminent domain proceedings are not to be taken lightly. If you fail to act quickly, you risk receiving a lower offer on your property than you otherwise may be entitled to receive.