When the government wants your land for a public project, condemnation proceedings begin when the government files a condemnation petition in court. A copy of this petition must be sent to the property owner by certified mail, return receipt requested. A condemnation petition sets forth the property sought to be acquired from the landowner. The Texas Property Code requires that the condemnation petition contain the following six elements:
a. A description of the property. The property description must be specific enough that a surveyor could go onto the land and mark out the property sought to be condemned. The description should be provided by metes and bounds, as used in deed conveyances, so that a surveyor could locate the exact property. The property description in a petition for condemnation must appear either on the face of the petition or by other writing referred to in the petition. Failure to adequately describe the property to be condemned in the petition divests the court of jurisdiction over the condemnation proceeding.
b. A specific statement of the intended use of the property by the condemning entity. The use of the condemned property must serve a public purpose or fulfill a function already performed by the governmental entity. Texas courts have ruled that any legislative declaration of public purpose (including a city council resolution) is usually upheld absent fraud. Under Texas law, property generally cannot be condemned for economic development purposes—so unless a specific exception applies, economic development is generally not a valid public purpose.
c. A list of the names of the all owners of the property. The government must make a good faith effort to name all parties with ownership interests in the property. However, this does not necessarily include mortgage holders. An allegation of ownership must also be included in the condemnation petition. To avoid giving parties with an interest in the condemning of the property the right to challenge the condemnation later, it is necessary to name those parties as defendants in the petition. The petition is only legally sufficient if it asserts that the defendants owned or claimed to own some interest in the property to be taken.
d. A statement that the government and the landowner have failed to reach an agreement on price.
e. A statement that the “Landowner’s Bill of Rights” has been provided to the property owners.
Under the Texas Government Code, Section 402.031, the Attorney General of Texas prepares a Landowner's Bill of Rights statement notifying property owners of their legal rights. The government must send the Bill of Rights via first class mail to the last known address of the person whose name is listed on the tax rolls for the property. This must be done at least seven days prior to the date of the final offer.
f. A statement that a bona fide offer has been made.
Learn how to protect your rights when the government takes your land:
Texas Eminent Domain Guide
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