When energy companies want to use your land for a public project, you may have heard that they have the power of eminent domain. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean you have no rights.
In Texas, many oil and gas pipelines, wind power companies and solar power concerns have been granted the power of eminent domain by the Texas government. Eminent domain (also called “condemnation”) is the power to take your property whether you agree to it or not, as long as it is for a public purpose and you are adequately compensated.
Often, these companies only want to use a portion of your land for the project, and only for a period of time (usually decades). The compensation can be high, in many cases, so you may find you have no objection to the use of your land.
In other cases, you may object to the project or to the amount of compensation you are offered. If you do, you have the right to hire an attorney and hold the energy company to strict standards before any project is completed on your land.
The Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights
The Office of the Attorney General has laid out a Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights to help people understand their rights in an eminent domain proceeding. Here are the main points:
- If your property is taken for a public use, you have the right to adequate compensation.
- Your property can only be taken for a public use.
- Only a governmental entity or authorized private entity can take your property.
- The entity wishing to take your property must notify you that it plans to do so.
- The entity must provide you with a written appraisal from a certified appraiser detailing the compensation they are offering.
- The entity must attempt to buy your property in good faith before it can attempt to take it through eminent domain.
- You have the right to hire an appraiser or other professional to determine the value of your property.
- You have the right to hire an attorney to negotiate with the entity and to represent you in legal proceedings.
- You have a right to a hearing about the property condemnation before a panel of special commissioners, who will determine the amount of compensation you should receive.
- You have the right to appeal the results of that hearing in a trial before a judge or jury and to appeal the results of that trial to an appellate court.
If an entity is trying to purchase your property for a public project, it is required to notify you of this Bill of Rights at least seven days before making its final offer to purchase the property.
How does eminent domain really work?
There are strict procedures you can insist on, but most often the eminent domain process is largely a negotiation over how much compensation you deserve. The compensation you receive depends on what an educated buyer would pay a willing seller for the land’s highest purpose. It can also include any diminution of value in your remaining land due to the project.
That’s why it’s so important to hire a lawyer who has handled eminent domain cases involving energy projects. You need someone who understands the process, who knows what is customary, and who can help you get the most favorable deal.