The Bill of Rights is a set of amendments to the U.S. Constitution that recognizes several individual rights, including the right to free speech, due process and to have an attorney represent you if you are charged with a crime. More than 230 years after the Constitution was ratified, the Bill of Rights remains one of its most vital (and talked-about) sections.
You have probably heard of the Bill of Rights before but might not realize that it allows eminent domain, the government’s power to seize privately owned land. Specifically, the Fifth Amendment states, “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” In other words, the government can seize private property, but only if it compensates the owner with the land’s fair market value.
The Landowner’s Bill of Rights
Needless to say, eminent domain is a controversial government power. In response, Texas lawmakers created another bill of rights called the State of Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights. The Landowner’s Bill of Rights enshrines ten property owner rights against eminent domain actions:
- The right to adequate compensation.
- Your property can only be taken for a public use.
- Your property can only be taken by a government entity or private entity legally authorized to do so.
- The entity must notify you of its intention to take your property.
- The right to a written appraisal, prepared by a certified appraiser, detailing how much you are entitled to in compensation.
- A requirement that the entity make you a bona fide purchase offer before suing to condemn the property (which begins the eminent domain process).
- Your right to hire your own appraiser or other professional to determine your property’s fair market value or advise you in condemnation proceedings.
- Your right to hire an attorney.
- If necessary, a hearing prior to condemnation before three special commissioners who determine the compensation you are entitled to in exchange for the property seized, as well as any resulting reduction in value to your remaining property.
- The right to a trial if you object to the special commissioner panel’s decision.
Enforcing your rights as a landowner is easier when you have an experienced eminent domain attorney advising and representing you.