Terms of an Easement
It’s Not Just About the Dollar Amount
When the government or a private company wants to use your land for its purposes, they draft up a document detailing the terms of their agreement with you, the property owner. This document, called an easement, is an essential part of the eminent domain process. Understanding what it is, how it works, and what to look for will go a long way in providing you peace of mind about the process.
In the most basic terms, an easement is a contract detailing how and why an entity will use your land, and how they’ll compensate you for doing so. Technically speaking, an easement doesn’t give full ownership of the land from the property owner to the entity using it. Instead, it gives them the right to use that land under the conditions specified. This condition, called legal right of way, is usually granted on a permanent basis, which means you need to be sure you are getting favorable terms before you sign any deal. You won’t get a chance to renegotiate or alter terms years down the road, so you have to get it right the first time.
As an eminent domain attorney, I’ve learned most people aren’t aware of what to look out for and what to ask for in an easement. And the sad truth is that’s just how the companies that create these documents like it. A right-of-way agent may point you to specific provisions in the easement, assuring you it’s what you hoped for, but you should never sign an easement without thoroughly reading it for yourself or having an attorney review it. There’s too much at stake to simply take their word for it.
Easily the biggest mistake I see people make when it comes to assessing an easement is solely looking at the dollar value offered. Of course, how much money you’ll receive is a huge factor, but it’s far from the only one. If the company will be digging up your land, how will they restore it? What happens if they screw up a power line while working? Will they provide fencing and other structures to clearly mark where the project is running? If a pipe ruptures and damages land not covered in the easement, how will you be compensated? These are just some of the considerations that may be covered in an easement. You have to be willing to analyze the document from all sides to determine whether you should sign the agreement. And again, you really only get one shot at doing it right.
The company handling the easement may try to persuade you to not work with an attorney. They know clients who consult lawyers receive better easement terms and more money than those who don’t. In rare cases, the price you’re paid for an easement may go up while it actually becomes less valuable due to other clauses disappearing. Situations like these are exactly why it’s best to speak with an attorney as early as possible.
In life, we’re often told to read the fine print, and that’s especially true when it comes to easements. Before you talk to anyone or sign any agreements, you owe it to yourself to read my “Texas Eminent Domain Condemnation Guide,” which you may download free on my website DavidToddLaw.com. It will explain the condemnation process, help you avoid common mistakes, and better protect your rights in the eminent domain process.
Learn how to protect your rights when the government or a corporation wants to take your land:
Texas Eminent Domain Condemnation Guide