Steps in the Texas Eminent Domain Process
* more detail on each step listed below the flowchart
* Expanded flowchart explanation:
1. Company or Government "Condemnor" Announces Project and Affected Properties
Often during project development, the condemning authority will hold public meetings to inform the public of the upcoming project and how this project will affect private property. Private companies must follow certain procedures to gain eminent domain authority to take land for projects. The entity that want to take your property using the legal process of eminent domain condemnation is called the "condemnor".
2. Property Owner Hires Attorney
An eminent domain lawyer should be hired as soon as possible to help guide the process and negotiate the best settlement for the landowner. Depending upon the complexity of the case, the value of the property and the amount of damages done to any remaining property, it may be necessary to allow condemnation to occur in order for the property owner to receive just compensation. If this is the case, an eminent domain lawyer must be hired to assist the property owner with their claim.
3. Condemnor Inspects and Values Property
Before the condemning authority makes an offer, they must determine the value of the property being taken, and all damages associated with the taking. This valuation is determined by an appraiser and then reviewed by the condemning authority before an offer is made. These appraisers often have long-standing relationships with the condemnor and want to keep project costs low so they keep getting hired by the condemnor for more appraisals. These appraisals may contain errors such as using incorrect comparable properties, or they may not value your property at its “highest and best use”. Frequently, they ignore severance issues or dramatically understate their significance and impact.
4. Condemnor Makes Offer to Property Owner
The condemning authority must provide the property owner a copy of the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights. The condemning authority must disclose with the offer any and all existing appraisal reports produced or acquired by the condemnor relating to the owner’s property and used in determining the final valuation offer.
5. Attorney Evaluates Offer
After the condemning authority makes an offer, the property owner’s attorney will evaluate the appraisal and offer to determine if it represents just compensation. If the attorney finds errors in the condemnor's valuation, then they will determine how best to proceed.
6. Negotiation Strategy Determined
The attorney will need to assess all damages that were not included in the condemnor’s valuation and determine the full amount of compensation owed to the property owner. The attorney will then determine how best to present this information to the condemning authority during the negotiation phase.
7. Appraiser Selected to Find True Value
In many eminent domain cases, a second appraisal must be conducted on the property in order to determine the full value owed to the landowner, including those missed by the condemning authority’s appraiser. This appraisal is submitted as evidence supporting the property owner’s claim for additional compensation. A property owner must disclose to the condemning authority any and all appraisal reports produced or acquired by the property owner relating specifically to the owner’s property and used in determining the owner’s opinion of value. It is highly recommended to consult with an eminent domain attorney prior to obtaining a second appraisal. Any and all appraisals done on the property to determine the owner’s opinion of the value must be submitted to the condemning authority.
If you hire an appraiser on your own who is not experienced in valuing property in eminent domain cases, you may end up with an appraisal that contains errors that will be used against you in court. Hiring a wrong appraiser can seriously jeopardize a good claim. An eminent domain attorney will thoroughly review the initial appraisal and determine its strengths and weaknesses. Based on this information, the attorney will indicate a selection for the most qualified appraiser to value the property in question and determine the damages to any remaining land. Make sure you consult with an eminent domain attorney before hiring an appraiser on your own.
8. Property Owner Settles with Condemnor
If the property owner is satisfied with the offer they can sign the final settlement papers and give up their right to pursue additional damages. At that point the case is complete.
9. Deed or Easement is Transferred
Once the final settlement papers are signed by the property owner, the deed or easement is transferred to the condemnor. It is at this time that ownership is transferred from the property owner to the condemning authority.
10. Owner’s Case is Complete
The owner is paid in full, the condemning authority owns the property, and the owner’s case is finished. The property owner can no longer file a claim to challenge the taking or to receive additional compensation.
11. Property Owner Does Not Settle with Condemnor
If the property owner is not satisfied with the amount offered by the condemning authority they can refuse the offer and allow condemnation to occur.
12. Condemnor Starts Eminent Domain Condemnation Process
If the condemning authority cannot reach a settlement agreement with the property owner, they may begin the condemnation proceedings by filing a petition in the proper court. The condemnor does this by filing a civil lawsuit for condemnation of the property.
13. Commissioners Appointed to Decide Compensation
The judge in the court where the condemnation petition was filed or to which an eminent domain case is assigned will appoint three disinterested landowners who reside in the county as special commissioners to determine the amount that should be paid to the owner whose land is being taken.
14. Commissioner Hearing
The special commissioners schedule a hearing where each party may present their evidence supporting their opinion on the amount of damages and just compensation. The special commissioners will admit evidence on 1. the value of the property begin condemned, 2. the injury to the property owner, 3. the benefit to the property owner’s remaining property; and 4. the use of the property for the purpose of the condemnation. The commissioners then come up with an amount to be awarded to the landowner.
15. Condemnor Pays or Deposits Award and Takes Possession
After the special commissioners have made an award in the eminent domain proceeding, the condemning authority can usually take possession of the property, provided the condemning authority pays the property owner the amount of damages and costs awarded by the special commissioners or deposits that amount of money with the court. If the money is deposited with the court, the property owner can petition the court to withdrawal the money. Prior to withdrawing the money, they must file a tax certificate from the tax collector for each taxable parcel on the condemned property showing that there are no delinquent taxes, penalties, interest, or costs owing on the condemned property or on any larger tract of which the condemned property forms a part. At the time of acquisition the condemnor will give the property owner notice that the owner and the owner’s heirs are entitled to repurchase the property if the public use for which the property was acquired through eminent domain is canceled before the 10th anniversary of the date of acquisition. The repurchase price is the fair market value of the property at the time the public use was canceled.
16. Owner Accepts Commissioner Award as Final
If the owner is satisfied with the amount of just compensation determined by the special commissioners, they may sign off on the award, therefore waiving their right to pursue additional just compensation and their case is done.
17. Owner Appeals Commissioner Award
If the property owner is not satisfied with the amount of just compensation as determined by the special commissioners, they can appeal this award by filing a formal objection. This objection must be filed within the legal deadline after the commissioner hearing or it is waived. Note that the condemnor can also file an objection to the award if they believe it was unfair and wish to proceed with regular litigation.
18. Jury Trial on Compensation
If the objection is filed, a trial will be conducted in the same manner as other civil cases to determine the amount of damages and just compensation.
The Texas eminent domain condemnation process is complicated, and if you want to make sure you are justly compensated, you should speak to an eminent domain attorney. Speaking to an eminent domain attorney regarding your case will keep you informed of your rights, the eminent domain process, and how to get the best outcome for your case. If you have questions regarding the eminent domain process in Texas contact us.