Can You Refuse Eminent Domain in Houston?
The United States and Texas law grant the government, including the city of Houston, the authority to exercise eminent domain over private property. In general, you cannot refuse eminent domain outright. However, that does not mean that you cannot challenge the taking of your land in court. Even with the assistance of an experienced Houston eminent domain attorney, challenging the condemnation of your property is a difficult process. The Houston eminent domain lawyers at The Queenan Law Firm explain.
Eminent Domain Laws in Houston, TX
The government’s exercise of eminent domain is known as condemnation. A legitimate use of eminent domain in Texas authority requires three elements: (1) a government or an authorized private entity must condemn the property; (2) the purpose must be for public use; and (3) the condemning entity must pay the landowner adequate compensation.
The Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights prohibits the taking or destruction of private property for public use without paying the landowner proper compensation. Houston residents also enjoy protections under the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights, including the following:
- Only the government or a government-authorized private company can condemn property for public use.
- Notice is required before exercising eminent domain.
- The entity taking the property must make a good faith, bona fide offer to purchase the property before starting the condemnation process.
- Property owners are entitled to legal representation for the purchase negotiations and subsequent hearing or trial.
- Landowners have the right to a trial before a judge or jury if the compensation was inadequate or if the condemnation was improper.
What Can You Do to Fight Eminent Domain in Houston?
Several requirements must be satisfied for an entity to exercise eminent domain authority over your property. As mentioned, only the government or an authorized company can take your land, and they must take it for public use after paying you for it. Any problems with these factors can cut off the eminent domain process.
The most common objection filed is an objection to the amount of compensation offered. You have the right to challenge the amount offered, first through initial negotiations, then in a hearing before three court-appointed commissioners, then at a trial, if required.
Challenging the amount of compensation does not look at whether the eminent domain taking is proper, but rather whether the payment offer is proper. To challenge the condemnation of your property as a whole, you will need to focus on the other two elements of eminent domain: the legal standing of the condemning entity and the purpose of the taking.
Who Has the Right to Exercise Eminent Domain Over Property in Houston?
According to both United States and Texas laws, the only entity that has the right to condemn your property is the government. Sometimes, a private entity with government authority can condemn property instead. All other companies or individuals are prohibited from exercising eminent domain over your property.
Before a condemnation action begins, the condemning entity is required to make a good faith attempt to purchase your property. The bona fide offer must be in writing and must involve a certified appraisal, and a final offer must be higher than the appraiser valued the property.
Unfortunately, private companies will sometimes offer a low purchase price under the impression that they will get to exercise eminent domain authority over your property if an agreement cannot be reached. Our seasoned eminent domain litigation attorneys can help fight to avoid entering into a sales agreement when you were not legally required to do so. Additionally, if the company did have the right to condemn your property, we would work to block them from taking your land.
What Qualifies as “Public Use” in Houston Eminent Domain Cases?
One of the requirements for eminent domain actions is that the purpose of taking the property is to benefit the public or use the property for “public use.” If the taking is not for public use or it is excessive, arbitrary, or capricious, the condemnation is improper.
As changes in community needs occur, such as transportation or energy use, the standard of public benefit also changes. In Kelo v. New London (2005), the United States Supreme Court expanded the definition of public use, granting the government the authority to condemn private property for economic development. Condemnation of property is not usually allowed for large commercial projects, including sports stadiums and shopping centers. However, private companies have sought to use the right of eminent domain under this broad definition of public use. The Texas Legislature, in response to the ruling, passed laws restricting the use of eminent domain for economic development.
Some eminent domain purposes are difficult to challenge, including taking the land to build hospitals, highways, and utility and energy lines. However, if the use appears to benefit only the economic well-being of a particular company or individual, then there could be a legal basis to challenge the taking. Even with the broad interpretation of public use, you can challenge the condemnation of your property if you believe there is no benefit for the public.
You can also challenge the condemnation of your property if you can show that taking your property is not necessary to achieve the stated purpose. Furthermore, the taking could be excessive, condemning more property than required. Our knowledgeable eminent domain litigation attorneys will thoroughly review the project and its stated goals to determine if taking your property or a portion of it is necessary.
Call Our Houston Eminent Domain Attorney Today
While you are unable to simply refuse Houston’s exercise of eminent domain over your land, you do have legal rights. Furthermore, Houston must adhere to statutory requirements for the condemnation to be both legal and constitutional. Our Houston eminent domain attorneys have the depth of skill and experience to aggressively defend your rights if the taking of your land is improper. Contact The Queenan Law Firm, P.C. to learn more about our services and how we can help you. Call (817) 774-9627 to schedule a free consultation.