In Texas, understanding eminent domain is particularly relevant due to the state’s expansive infrastructure projects and continuous development. Eminent domain is the right of the government to seize private property. It is a legal concept that allows government entities to take private property or authorize a private entity to take the land for public use. However, landowners who must forfeit their property to authorized entities also have rights, the primary one being the right to just compensation.
Fair compensation is the cornerstone of eminent domain law, enshrined in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and echoed in the Texas Constitution. Landowners must realize what constitutes fair compensation to ensure they receive it.
Understanding fair compensation
If any entity with eminent domain authority wants to acquire your property for the benefit of the public, they must make a bona fide offer. The initial offer should be in writing, and the acceptance of the offer should be voluntary, meaning you can negotiate the final offer. Determining adequate compensation can be complex and often contentious. Here are some things to consider before deciding how much your property is truly worth:
- Accurate market value assessments: The most common measure of fair compensation is the property’s ” market value, ” which is the price the property would likely sell for on the open market. In Texas, this is often determined by professional appraisals, which consider factors such as the property’s location, size, current use and income-generating potential.
- Damages to the remaining property or severance damages: If the authorized entity only intends to take a portion of your property, you may be eligible to receive compensation for any reduction in the value of the remaining land that still belongs to you. For instance, if a road expansion project takes a strip of land that used to provide access to a highway, the remaining land may lose significant value due to reduced accessibility.
- Relocation costs: You may also receive compensation for expenses related to moving to a new location, particularly if you were using the land for your business. Reestablishing a customer base and operations in a new area is challenging, and you will need substantial capital.
- Costs of acquiring a comparable property: Finding a similar property to replace the one taken can be expensive. You may have to hire a real estate agent and pay other related expenses. Therefore, you may want to consider these costs when negotiating the final offer.
As a landowner facing an eminent domain case, you must know that your rights protect you from unfair practices and lowball settlement offers. You can hire a professional appraiser to determine your property’s actual value and seek the legal expertise of an experienced attorney to negotiate the compensation amount you deserve.