Have you received notice that your land is being taken by eminent domain? This is a process by which the government, and its delegates, forces the sale or partial sale of property for the public good. In Texas, the state itself may engage in eminent domain actions, which are also called “condemnation.” However, the state has also delegated its condemnation authority to public pipeline owners and operators.
If you have received notice of an eminent domain action, you may think you have no legal options, but you may. You can challenge the condemnation if it is not for public use, and you have the right to compensation.
You are not simply at the whim of the state or delegated entities. Both the federal Constitution and the Texas Constitution require that condemnation be done only for public use and that landowners must receive just compensation.
Because of these constitutional protections, your lawyer can challenge a condemnation based on whether it is being done for a public use. Your lawyer can also challenge whether the entity in question has the power of eminent domain in the first place.
A great deal of the litigation in eminent domain cases, however, is about what constitutes just compensation.
What is just compensation for land?
The law dictates that just compensation is the fair market value of the land at the property’s best and highest use. Fair market value is what a willing buyer would pay on the open market.
Exactly what that means can be hard to determine — but it’s almost certainly more than you are being told you have to accept.
What if all they want is an easement?
Many pipeline companies and government entities are only seeking an easement or right of way across part of your property. Generally, these simply allow the company or government entity access to a portion of your property, such as to install a pipeline or transmission line.
Don’t assume that the compensation for this is negligible. You will be losing property rights to a portion of your land. You need to take proactive steps if you are to protect your current and future property rights.
Your attorney might be able to prevent the taking of an easement or right of way through eminent domain, if the project may not be for public use or if the entity does not have proper condemnation authority. An attorney can also help you limit the easement or right of way to what is genuinely needed for the project and for the lease possible amount of time. Then, your attorney can negotiate just compensation for the property rights you are being forced to give up.
If you have been approached by a company or governmental entity about condemnation of all or part of your property, you should protect yourself by discussing your situation with an experienced eminent domain attorney.