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Know the facts about Texas eminent domain laws

Eminent domain, also called condemnation, gives the government the right to take private land for public use. However, Texas homeowners have certain rights in this situation as documented by the state’s Landowner’s Bill of Rights.

These are the key things to know about eminent domain in Texas so that you can protect your investment in your homestead.

Common reasons for eminent domain

Public utility companies and government agencies often seize private land for building and infrastructure projects, including but not limited to:

  • Government buildings
  • Roads
  • Utility pipelines
  • Power lines
  • Schools
  • Railroads

In Texas, the law prohibits eminent domain except for public use. Agencies cannot seize private property simply to create economic development and tax revenue.

The eminent domain process

Eminent domain can apply to your entire property or to a portion of the land. The entity can also request the right to use the property’s ground or surface water or an easement to access part of the land.

First, the government entity will contact you with official notification of the intent to use eminent domain to take your land. The agency must provide a fair market offer to purchase or lease access to the property and include a certified appraisal.

Homeowners do not have a legal obligation to accept this offer. You and your attorney can negotiate with the condemning entity for a more favorable arrangement.

Hearing and appeal options

When you cannot arrive at an agreement with the condemning party, the agency may request a hearing with the Texas Special Commissioners. During this process, the state will select three commissioners to determine a fair valuation for the property and damages associated with the seizure, such as the cost of relocation.

Either you or the condemning party can file a civil appeal lawsuit to reject the commissioners’ decision. In this case, the state requires each party to pay its own legal costs. In this type of lawsuit, you can attempt to prove that the defendant does not have the right to pursue eminent domain, that the action does not serve public use or that the condemnation process itself was illegal.