Can the City of Houston Use Eminent Domain?
Both the United States Constitution and Texas law grant the government the power to take private property for public use. Known as “eminent domain,” this authority is limited in various ways. Still, if the City of Houston complies with all legal requirements, it could use its power as a government entity to exercise eminent domain and take your private land. Our Houston eminent domain attorneys explain when Houston can use eminent domain laws to seize property and what you might be able to do if they are in the process of seizing your land.
Eminent Domain Laws in Houston, Texas
The exercise of eminent domain is called “condemnation.” To make this process legal, Houston must comply with several statutory regulations:
- Only the government or a company authorized by the government can seize private property.
- The seized property must be used for the public benefit.
- The landowner must be adequately compensated for the taken property.
Houston Property Owners’ Rights and the Condemnation Process
Private property rights are ingrained in the fabric of American and Texan ideals. Houston property owners are granted stronger rights and protections under Texas law than the U.S. Constitution when it comes to eminent domain issues. Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code outlines the rules, regulations, and procedures Houston is required to follow to take private land. Texas also has a Landowner’s Bill of Rights, made up of ten specific provisions, to further protect Houston citizens. These include the following:
- The power to seize private property rests only in the government or in entities with government authorization.
- To legally take private property, the government’s intended purpose must be to take it for public use.
- Before initiating formal legal condemnation proceedings, the government is required to make a good faith offer to purchase the property.
- Houston landowners are entitled to legal representation throughout the entire condemnation process.
- Property owners in Houston have the right to challenge the compensation offered for their property and the legality of the taking in court.
Good Faith Purchase Offers
When Houston designates a parcel of private property for seizure, it must make a good faith offer to purchase the property before beginning the legal condemnation process. The landowner is entitled to a written offer, along with a certified appraisal of the property. Retaining the services of our experienced Houston attorney could be very helpful at this stage. Often, the government will use agents who will encourage property owners to sell at a lower value than the land is worth.
It is essential to understand that a property owner in Houston is not required to accept the initial offer. Our seasoned attorneys will negotiate with the City of Houston and obtain an additional appraisal if necessary to fight for the best purchase price for your land.
If you agree with the price the city offered you, your land will be transferred through a typical real estate transaction. However, if you do not find the amount acceptable, Houston will begin the formal condemnation process. The initial stage of this case is a hearing before three court-appointed commissioners.
The special commission, comprised of three local landowners, will hear arguments and evaluate evidence to determine the proper compensation amount. If you did not retain our Houston attorney for the negotiation process, you should hire us to assist you during the hearing. We will present evidence of the actual value of your property, the costs you face in losing it, and the economic benefit to Houston to argue for a higher award amount.
Once the commissioners have reviewed the evidence you presented, they will render a finding and file their compensation determination with the court. Once compensation is determined, if either party is unhappy with the commissioners’ findings, they are entitled to appeal the award.
At trial, you can appeal the commissioners’ findings. In addition to the compensation award challenge, our Houston eminent domain attorney can also challenge the appropriateness of the taking. The usual grounds for this challenge are involve challenging whether the entity condemning your property is truly part of the government or a company with government authorization or whether the proposed purpose for the seizure involves a public use.
“Public use” is defined broadly. Projects such as the construction or expansion of highways, the construction of municipal or government buildings, or the running of utility and power lines are generally valid reasons for taking private property. Texas has passed legislation that protects land from being seized if the primary purpose is for the economic benefit of one company or individual.
We can also challenge whether the taking is necessary to accomplish the stated goals. Sometimes, the government will try to exercise eminent domain over a piece of land they do not actually need or they will try to seize more land than necessary. For example, they might only need a few square feet of land to install a utility box, and there would be no reason to seize an entire acre or the whole parcel of land. Our experienced attorneys will thoroughly examine the planned purpose and the intended use of your property to determine if your land was needed to meet the government’s goal.
Call Our Eminent Domain Attorney in Houston
The City of Houston, as a government entity, has the authority to seize your property by exercising eminent domain. If your private property was condemned, our knowledgeable eminent domain attorneys in Houston have the depth of skill to fight for the proper compensation or to challenge the basis for eminent domain. Contact The Queenan Law Firm, P.C. to learn more about our services and how we can help you. Call us at (817) 774-9627 to schedule a free consultation.