Can the State of Texas Force You to Sell Your Property?
People sometimes tell stories about “holdouts” who refuse to sell their land to developers or building projects. When a private company wants to buy your land, you always have the right to refuse the offer, no matter how much they offer you – but when the government comes for your property, there are processes where they can force you to sell your land even if you do not want to. Our Arlington eminent domain litigation attorneys at The Queenan Law Firm explain what you can do when the government of Texas comes for your property and how to handle these kinds of eminent domain cases.
How Do Texas’ Eminent Domain Laws Force You to Sell Your Land?
Eminent domain is a process where the government “condemns” your property and takes possession of it after paying you. In this sense, the law doesn’t exactly force you to “sell,” since that implies you are selling voluntarily, but it does take the land from you and pay you for it.
Many people associate the word “condemned” with houses that are old and unsafe, but the condemnation process used in eminent domain can be used against any property, even if you are currently using or profiting off of the property. Often, the kinds of property that Texas wants to seize through condemnation are strips of land that could be used for pipelines, highways, building projects, or even the installation of utilities. In many cases, strips of land taken for utilities are not very wide, and the loss to the landowner is not great. However, in cases where the government seizes tracts of land or full properties, owners could have everything taken from them – legally.
However, there are many situations where the help of an experienced Texas eminent domain lawyer can help you slow or stop the seizure.
Eminent Domain Rules and Restrictions in Texas
In order to use eminent domain, the government must meet a few requirements. First, the government must be the one doing the taking; random land developers or companies are not allowed to use eminent domain to take your land. However, some private companies might get authorization to use eminent domain on behalf of the government, such as utility companies looking to install lines.
Second, the government must make a fair attempt to purchase the property first. This means approaching you with a price and offering to buy the land without the hassle of eminent domain. If you agree to that initial purchase price, you might later find that the purchase price was too low. Instead of accepting the first offer, it is usually best to get a Texas eminent domain lawyer and have an independent appraisal done of the land value – which is fully within your rights as a landowner.
Third, the government can only take land from you if they are going to have a “public use” for the land. This usually includes things like building parks or roads. If a third party is authorized to use eminent domain, it will usually be for a pipeline or utilities project. In some cases, the government might try to pass off a project as “public use” when it does not actually benefit the public. You can challenge the purpose of the project, but courts have held that even things as vague as “economic development” are “public use”; however, it is possible that your case might be unique, so you should always talk to a Texas eminent domain lawyer about challenging the use.
There are also specific procedures the government needs to follow dictating the timing of court dates and telling you when a judge or panel of local landowners can step in to rule on the legitimacy of the government’s eminent domain case or purchase price. Your attorney can help with these issues, and if the government steps out of line, your lawyer can request to have the process taken back a few steps or started over.
Potentially, if the government does make serious mistakes that make the seizure of land illegal, you could have the case shut down. If the seizure is legal, but the processes were handled wrong, you might be able to protect your rights through the courts and through procedural challenges. If the hassle of fighting the case in court is too great or expensive for the government to bear, the government could reconsider whether they want to go through the trouble of taking your land at all.
How Much Does the Texas Government Pay to Take Your Land in Eminent Domain Cases?
The value of your land will be determined by some kind of appraisal. The government will usually use their own appraiser, but you can have an independent appraisal done of your land, too. In many cases where the prices come out different, a panel of commissioners (chosen form local landowners) and, ultimately, a judge and jury can be asked to review the compensation amount.
Property values range drastically from location to location throughout Texas. In some areas, property values might be so expensive that the government cannot afford to pay you a fair price at all, which means they will work even hard to drive down the price.
In some cases, you can also seek compensation for the reduced value of your remaining land. This means that if the eminent domain case leaves you with a parcel of land that has been drastically reduced in value because it was separated from the other land, the government will have to compensate you for that lost value in your remaining land as well as the value of the land they took.
Call Our Arlington, TX Eminent Domain Lawyer for a Free Case Consultation
These processes and calculations can be quite complex, and you should always have an experienced eminent domain attorney in your corner. The government certainly will have experienced attorneys on their side, so it is vital to have your own legal team representing you as well. For a free case consultation on your potential eminent domain case in Texas, call The Queenan Law Firm today. Our Texas eminent domain lawyers are available for free case consultations. Call us at (817) 476-1797.