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I’ve just received a condemnation notice. What does it mean?

If you’re a landowner in west Texas or eastern New Mexico, you may have received a notice from an energy company saying that your land will be condemned.

Condemnation is another word for the power of eminent domain. Eminent domain is the government’s authority to force people to sell their land to advance certain interests. In Texas and New Mexico, certain energy companies – those building projects for a public use – have been delegated the power of eminent domain.

That means they can very likely force you to sell all or part of your land. Or, they may be able to force you to grant a right of way or easement on your land, which allows them to travel on or use part of your land without further permission.

There could be ways to challenge the condemnation

There are limits, however. The company that sent you that condemnation notice may not be among those with the power of eminent domain. If they are not, they can’t condemn your land. Or, the project they are proposing might not be for a public use. If it isn’t, they can’t use their power of eminent domain.

You may also be able to convince the company to take a smaller portion or to limit itself to an easement or right of way.

You have the right to just compensation

Ultimately, the U.S. Constitution and both state constitutions require just compensation when private property is condemned for a public project. In Texas, that means you must receive the fair market value for your property. Fair market value is defined as the price a willing buyer would offer in an open market for the property’s highest and best use.

Getting just compensation may take some legwork

It only makes sense that the energy company will probably offer you less than you would ultimately be entitled to receive. It’s in their interest to pay as little as possible for the properties they plan to condemn.

Before you accept their initial offer, have an attorney experienced in eminent domain look it over. There may be obvious things that could be done to either limit the condemnation or increase the compensation. For example, the company’s offer might not take into account the decrease in value your remaining land could experience after the project.

If you have been notified that an energy company will soon condemn your land, take it seriously. You have rights and interests to protect.