Eminent domain is a legal principle that refers to the government’s power to seize a section (or the entirety) of a citizen’s land to use for public purposes. The government is required to provide significant monetary compensation in such a circumstance, but the owner’s consent is irrelevant. The law may require the government to purchase the property at a price stated by the owner before it resorts to eminent domain.
Here’s an overview of what you should know about the concept of eminent domain and when it’s most likely to be used in Texas.
All about eminent domain
Property that is seized through eminent domain is frequently used for projects such as railroads, public utilities and roads or any kind of project intended for public or civic use. The government might take an entire piece of property, or only a small portion of the property or an interest in that property (e.g., an easement).
Eminent domain is frequently confused with condemnation, but the concepts are not the same. A building that is condemned is simply declared unfit for human use because it is in poor condition. The title to the property is not taken from the owner—it simply means the property cannot be used until the owner takes steps to make the property reasonably safe.
Under eminent domain, the property in question may be seized by the government no matter what condition the buildings are in, and there is monetary compensation involved in that seizure. The title changes hands from the owner to the government, whereas there is no title change in condemnation—the government simply orders that the property be closed for usage.
It is not unusual for contests to arise in eminent domain, but when the government has decided to seize a piece of property, there really isn’t much the property owner can do about it. The most contested portion of such an arrangement thus tends to be how much money can be considered “just compensation” for the seizure. The government may arrange to have the land or property appraised to determine a fair price.
Homeowners will often complain they have no power at all in negotiations, but getting a survey and appraisal done will at least arm them with more information about the kind of value their property has. There are some jurisdictions that will also include payments made for valuations to ensure a person is not underpaid for the seizure of their property.
Property owners who wish to challenge the use of eminent domain in general can do so on the grounds that the land will not be used for an appropriate public use and that they did not follow proper procedures in seizing the land. This often happens when land will be taken for redevelopment designed to create profits for private citizens.
For more information about eminent domain in Texas and the kinds of challenges that are most likely to occur with its application, contact the land surveyors at D.G. Smyth & Co., Inc. with your questions.