Patrick L. Reznik, an attorney with Braun & Gresham, answers a few common questions about the rights of Texas landowners threatened by eminent domain, a process by which private and public entities condemn private lands to build transmission lines, pipelines, rail systems and roads, and to take surface or groundwater.
This is Part 1 in a 3 part series on understanding the condemnation process. To read Part 2 & 3, follow the links below:
“Part 2: Negotiating Your Terms and Compensation”
“Part 3: Special Commissioner’s Court- When Settlement Negotiations are Not Enough”
Patrick, I received a letter from a transmission company telling me they are going to build a power line on my land. How can they build this huge, ugly structure across my beautiful property without my permission?
The Texas Legislature has authorized private utility companies to condemn land for what is called “public use.” Texas population is growing and companies have begun aggressively acquiring private land through condemnation to exploit natural resources (electricity, oil, gas, water, etc.) and transport them across the state to accommodate the needs of this growing population.
Wow, now I feel helpless. Do I have any rights at all?
Yes, you have several. The important thing to remember is that even if you’ve received a letter in the mail, or talked to a “friendly” land agent from a condemnation entity informing you of their intentions, this does not mean that it’s a done deal.
Laws passed in 2011 now require entities seeking to acquire private property by eminent domain to a) make a “bona fide offer” to acquire the property voluntarily before wielding their powers of eminent domain, and b) make a much stronger justification of the reason for which the entity intends to acquire the private property. These entities are also required to provide affected landowners with the State of Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights prepared by the Office of the Attorney General of Texas.
The initial offer letter I received and the “friendly” land agent are pressuring me to hurry up and take their offer before I get sued. What advice do you have?
First, take a deep breath and understand you have more time to review the documents so don’t feel pressured. Second, you have time to consult with an attorney about your rights and the complicated condemnation process before you make a decision.
I frequently get calls from new clients feeling very upset and offended by the low offer for money damages. Plus, the standard easement they are asked to sign often gives the company a blanket access over the entire property – not just the easement and right-of-way. The initial offer letter will often give a 30-day arbitrary deadline, but by law you are entitled to receive a written appraisal from the condemning company before they file a condemnation lawsuit.
So as a landowner, what are the first steps I should take to begin influencing this complex process?
There are many ways to influence the condemnation process to ensure that your rights, wants and needs are met, but it’s important that you involve knowledgeable professionals who can help guide you through the process. Our condemnation practice is built on three principles:
- Helping our clients negotiate a route to do the least damage to their properties;
- Negotiating documents to limit the uses of condemned lands to prevent future intrusions and stop companies from taking advantage of landowners; and
- Getting a fair compensation for clients.
Give us a call today to begin developing a plan of action for how you want to challenge your private or public condemning agency. At Braun & Gresham, we represent landowners exclusively, so we always have your best interests in mind. We bring authority and expertise to the condemnation process which translates to a place at the table— a place that is invaluable in a seemingly helpless process.
Stay tuned for our next blog in this 3-part series, “Part 2: Negotiating Your Terms and Compensation.”