The first hearing when the government wants your land for a project is before the special commissioners.
After being appointed, the commissioners must schedule a hearing for the parties. Written notice informing the parties of the time and place of the hearing must be given at least 20 days before the hearing.
Notice of the commissioners’ hearing may be served by anyone competent to testify (and therefore prove the notice was delivered). Notice is accomplished, usually by the government on behalf of the commissioners:
1. By delivering a copy of the notice to a party, the party’s agent or to the party’s attorney;
2. If the property belongs to a deceased’s estate, a minor or an otherwise legally disabled person and that person or estate has a legal representative, by delivering a copy to that representative; or
3. If the property belongs to a non-resident and such resident has not been personally served, the commissioners may use service by publication if the owner is unknown or if the owner of the property is avoiding service of process.
Unless the Property Code specifies otherwise, the Rules of Civil Procedure generally do not apply to service of notice for the commissioners’ hearing.
Once proper notice has been served on all potential parties, the special commissioners may convene a hearing and consider the evidence presented by each party. A landowner who makes an appearance before the special commission during the special commissioners’ hearing waives any ability to subsequently claim that service was defective.
The special commissioners’ hearing is an administrative proceeding, not a judicial proceeding. Special commissioners have no authority to rule on questions of law, such as whether the condemning entity has the right to condemn the property at all. As a result, the hearings are not required to follow strict rules of evidence and other procedures observed in a trial court. Special commissioners may compel the attendance of witnesses, necessitate the production of testimony, administer oaths and punish parties for contempt in the same manner as a county judge.
The duty of the special commissioners is to determine damages a landowner will suffer from the taking of the property. This duty involves a determination of the value of the land taken and the amount of consequential damages (damages to the remainder) suffered by the landowner. The commissioners’ authority over the condemnation proceedings ends once they file their decision with the appointing judge. The judge has no authority to interfere with the proceedings before a decision has been filed.
Learn how to protect your rights when the government takes your land:
Texas Eminent Domain Guide