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Guest and Gray, P.C.: Understanding The Landowner’s Bill of Rights

LandownersBillofRightsThe Office of the Attorney General promulgates the “Landowner’s Bill of Rights” which are required to be provided to landowners in condemnation matters. The Landowner’s Bill of Rights outlines the rights of every landowner in the State of Texas has concerning their property in any condemnation proceeding. To read the full text of the Landowner’s Bill of Rights, click Here. The basic Landowner’s Bill of Rights are as follows:

1. You are entitled to receive adequate compensation if your property is taken for a public use. This means that, in any condemnation proceedings, you are entitled to the fair market value of the property being taken, including an amount for damages to any remaining property after the taking occurs. For instance, if your property is burdened by a transmission line easement, which will affect the remaining property’s fair market value, you are entitled to damages in the amount of the reduced value of the property as determined immediately after the taking occurs.

2. Your property can only be taken for a public use. This means that the government cannot take your property for a private use, i.e. for the benefit of only private individuals or companies. It must be a public use, such as a highway, gas lines, water line, etc..

3. Your property can only be taken by a governmental entity or private entity authorized by law to do so. This means that your neighbor cannot institute condemnation proceedings on your home because you have a bigger back yard and he wants a place to put his new boat. Only governmental entities or private entities who are expressly authorized by law to condemn property, such as water districts and electric co-ops, may condemn property.

4. The entity that wants to take your property must notify you that it wants to take your property. The entity seeking to condemn on your property must send you notice long before any proceedings take place. They cannot simply file suit to condemn your property without following prescribed statutory procedures. Notice of proposed condemnation is first, then you will start hearing from representatives of the condemning authority. If you are unable to settle with them, they will initiate condemnation proceedings against you.

HuntCountySabineRiver5. The entity proposing to take your property must provide you with a written appraisal from a certified appraiser detailing the adequate compensation you are owed for your property. This means that they must provide you with a recent appraisal of your property from a licensed appraiser, detailing what they believe to be the fair market value of your property is at the time of the taking. It is very important that you understand that the appraisal done by the condemning authority should not be taken as gospel truth. The condemning authorities appraiser is a hired gun with the sole responsibility of assessing your property’s value to the lowest possible amount in order to save the condemning authority in the purchase of your property. It is imperative that you get your own independent appraisal done and use that as a negotiating tool with the condemning authority.

6. The entity proposing to take your property must make a bona fide offer to buy the property before it files a lawsuit to condemn the property – which means the condemning entity must make a good faith offer that conforms with Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code. This sounds like a really good protection, but all it really ends up doing is setting a floor by which the condemning authority, and your counsel, will use to negotiate the purchase of your property. These “bona fide” offers are typically really just a reflection of the condemning authorities appraiser’s valuation of the property, which, as stated above, may not be a true indication of the value of your property.

Texasoilfields-300x1917. You may hire an appraiser or other professional to determine the value of your property or to assist you in any condemnation proceeding. As stated above regarding the “bona fide” offer, you need to get an appraisal done on your property to ensure that any amount of money the condemning authority is offering is put to the test by your own appraiser who is working for you and has your best interests in mind.

8. You may hire an attorney to negotiate with the condemning entity and to represent you in any legal proceedings involving the condemnation. Hiring legal counsel is almost required. Life is hard enough without have to navigate the complex avenues of eminent domain law. Although most people assume that it is a fairly simple process, it absolutely is not and there is a lot of room for error. You need competent and experienced help from a licensed attorney in order to make sure that your interest are fully protected.

9. Before your property is condemned, you are entitled to a hearing before a court appointed panel that includes three special commissioners. The special commissioners must determine the amount of compensation the  condemning entity owes for the taking of your property. The commissioners must also determine what compensation, if any, you are entitled to receive for any reduction in value of your remaining property. This means that, as a landowner, you are entitled to due process of the law in determining the value of your property. The court will appoint three or four commissioners who will hear the matter and make a determination, based on the evidence presented at the hearing, of the just compensation is for your property. As detailed below, if you are unsatisfied with the commissioners ruling, you may appeal and have the matter tried before a judge or jury.

10. If you are unsatisfied with the compensation awarded by the special commissioners, or if you question whether the taking of your property was proper, you have the right to a trial by a judge or jury. If you are dissatisfied with the trial court’s judgment, you may appeal that decision. The truth is that either party may appeal the decision of the commissioners, but it is imperative that the landowners be represented by counsel, and if they are unsatisfied with the ruling of the commissioners that they have the right to appeal and have counsel that is prepared and understands the process of appealing the commissioner’s award. There are very specific time periods for filing of appeals in these cases. If you appeal the commissioner’s award and are unsatisfied with the ruling in the trial court, you may also appeal that to the Court of appeals.

guestandgray-300x300Landowners: Know Your Rights

It is imperative that landowners know their rights and have competent legal representation in any condemnation proceeding. Guest and Gray, P.C. is committed to helping landowners in the Kaufman, Forney, Rockwall, Greenville and other areas of east Texas assert their rights against the condemning authorities in the State of Texas. We have a 100% success rate in obtaining more money for our clients than the condemning authority has initially offered. Our consultations are free and we take all condemnation cases on a contingency basis, meaning no upfront out of pocket costs for you for our services.

If you have received notice that your property is subject to condemnation, you need to call Guest and Gray, P.C. today and let us assert your property rights.