What is a Notice of Condemnation?
A Notice of Condemnation is a formal written notice from the federal government, or state or local government, advising the property owner that it intends to acquire the property through the power of eminent domain. Think of the Notice of Condemnation as an initial reaching out of sorts, the preliminary stage of a condemnation action in Texas. Following the Notice of Condemnation, the government authority seeking to condemn the property will conduct an appraisal and make an initial offer. It is important not to panic when you receive a Notice of Condemnation or initial offer. There are important rights in Texas to protect landowners in condemnation cases.
Forms of Condemnation Notice
In Texas the Notice of Condemnation is the first formal communication you will receive from the condemning authority seeking to take your land. The Notice will have a specific description of the property to be condemned and advise you of any important meetings that property owners can attend for more information about the project and may advise you of important rights that you have.
Following the receipt of the Notice of Condemnation, the condemning authority will make an initial offer to purchase your property. This offer must be made in good faith and supported by one or more appraisals conducted by the condemning party. At this point you are free to attempt to negotiate a higher price. If you are unable to come to an agreement, the next step is for the condemning party to file a Condemnation Petition. Texas Code Sec. 21.012 expressly states that the condemning authority must have made a bona fide offer to purchase the property from the property owner prior to filing the Condemnation Petition.
Therefore, do not panic if you receive a Notice of Condemnation. Texas law grants landowners important rights in condemnation actions, one of which is this initial period of informal negotiations prior to the filing of a formal Condemnation Petition. It is important to use this period of time to discuss your options and rights with an experienced Texas eminent domain attorney.
What are my rights after receiving a Notice of Condemnation?
The Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights sets forth the rights of property owners where a governmental authority or private entity attempts to take real property rightfully belonging to the owner. The Landowner’s Bill of Rights were created by the Texas Office of the Attorney General in an effort to curtail abusive practices against landowners. The condemning authority is required to provide a copy of the Landowner’s Bill of Rights to the owner at least 7 days before a final offer is made to purchase the property.
Other important rights granted to landowners under the Bill of Rights include:
- Real property may only be taken for a public use
- You are entitled to adequate compensation for the property taken
- The condemning authority must provide you with a written appraisal from a certified appraiser advising you of the fair market value for the property
- The condemning authority must make a good faith offer to buy the property prior to initiating formal condemnation proceedings
- You can hire your own appraiser to determine the value of the property, as well as an attorney to both negotiate the price and represent you in court should an agreement fail to be reached
The limitation that property can only be taken for a public use is an important one. What this means is that the condemning entity can only take the property if it serves needs of the general public. Examples include the construction of roads, parks, and utilities, among others. An entity cannot use the power of eminent domain to take your property if the intended end use is for private economic development.
A condemning authority also cannot take your property without paying you what it is worth. Nor can it rightfully submit a lowball offer to a landowner. This is not to say that it does not happen, however. Having an experienced eminent domain attorney both advise you of important rights under Texas law and negotiate a fair price on your behalf can help even the playing field.
Gather information and determine what was provided
While preliminary, the Notice of Condemnation provides you with important information. First, it will include a description of the property to be taken. Second, it should notify you of the nature of the project, as well as any local meetings you can attend where you can be granted the opportunity to voice your disapproval of the project. Third, you may be provided with a copy of the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights, as well as be advised of other important rights, at the same time of the Notice of Condemnation or shortly thereafter. Again, the condemning entity must provide you with a copy of the Bill of Rights at least 7 days before making a final offer to buy the property.
It is important to spend this time educating yourself on your rights and the intended use of the property to be taken. Is the intended use really one that will benefit the public? If the intended use is supported, consider the amount of land they are proposing to take. If this exceeds what is needed for the project you may have a basis to object. It is also a good idea to spend some time determining the value of the property. Consider hiring an appraiser during the initial stages so you have a better idea of the fair market value prior to receiving an initial and/or final offer from the entity. A Texas eminent domain attorney can be invaluable resource throughout the initial condemnation stages, as well as formal proceedings should your case progress to that stage.
Contact an experienced Texas condemnation attorney as soon as possible
Receiving a Notice of Condemnation can be a stressful and confusing experience. Eminent domain laws are complex. Inexperienced landowners may not only unnecessarily lose a portion of, or even all their property, but they may lose a significant amount of money by not being paid adequate compensation for the condemned property. The Padua Law Firm has experience successfully representing landowners in all stages of the condemnation process. We do everything we can to help our clients to retain their property. Where condemnation cannot be prevented, we work hard to ensure that our clients receive maximum compensation. Please contact us at 713-840-1411 at any time to discuss your case.