What are the government's first steps in taking my property?

Texas Property Code, Chapter 21, governs the process by which the government exercises its eminent domain authority. This is generally referred to as "condemnation procedure" and the government must follow it when exercising its power of eminent domain.

The process of acquiring the necessary land begins when the government receives a formal description of the property, which usually includes a registered land surveyor’s field notes and a plat for each parcel in the project. The government may have to acquire an assortment of property rights, including fee simple title (outright ownership), utility easements (permission to use a portion of a property for a pipeline or for an electric transmission tower, for example), drainage easements and grading easements. The property survey will be an attachment to the prepared deed/easement—and possibly the condemnation petition if that becomes necessary. Therefore, the survey should state the exact nature of the property rights that the condemning entity plans to acquire.

Sometimes, road-widening projects have a unique problem when surveyors cannot find a real property deed for certain portions of the road being widened. When this happens, land surveyors typically include the following in their property description: “after diligent search of the real property records, no deed for ______ Road was discovered.” If facts support it, the plat should also reflect an implied dedication or prescriptive easement – in favor of the public – over the preexisting right-of-way.

Some projects only need temporary use of property rather than long-term ownership. Whether the owner of temporarily-acquired land must be compensated for its short-term use requires a fact-specific analysis of the temporary use. The compensation owed to the landowner will be determined by the length and extent of the use of the private property in question.

After preparing the necessary property description of the property, the government must check the property’s title history. Title insurance or independent research may be used to complete this step.

Finally, when the government needs to buy property for a major project, it is usually necessary to hire a licensed appraiser.