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How eminent domain works in Texas

One quick way to get on the wrong side of a Texan is when someone tries to take their land. Nevertheless, there are certain circumstances where the state or local municipality (or a company working for them) will justify taking ownership from an individual or business. This is done under eminent domain, which is a premise that it is in the best interests of the public for the government to do this.

Technically speaking, it falls under the “Takings Clause” of the Fifth Amendment and always includes “just compensation,” although the private citizen often disputes the amount or meaning of this relative term.

How it works

While the seizure of land implies criminal activity, the taking of land implies no wrongdoing and has various categories:

  • Complete taking: This is when the governing entity buys the entire property.
  • Partial taking: This is when the governing entity buys a portion of the property.
  • Temporary taking: This is when the governing entity requires the use of the property for a specific period.

While the taking involves a purchase of land, it can also be tied to the impact upon a piece of property through a change in zoning or significant development that may lower the value of the land. Common examples of projects requiring eminent domain include:

  • Highways, bridges, roads and public transportation
  • Structures used to manage water supply, pipelines or public utilities
  • Creation or expansion of parks
  • Build a government building

The steps of the process

The municipality will start by determining it needs the land and moves to pay for it. If the owner refuses the offer, the government can file a court action and post notice for a public hearing. It then outlines its case for buying the property or the price it offered. The property owner also has a chance to provide evidence to support its claim. Expert testimony is often employed during the process.

Recent reform did not pass

Senate Bill 421 was one recent attempt eminent domain reform. Despite three attempts, the bill failed to pass. Critics claimed it did not protect landowners, simplify the process, or provide transparency when large companies working for municipalities were buying up land under eminent domain for pennies on the dollar.

Landowners concerned about their rights are advised to consult with an attorney who handles real estate law matters here in Texas. They can provide guidance and insight for the strongest possible protections under the current laws.

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William T. Peckham
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Austin, TX 78701
Phone: 512-487-7604
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