Eminent domain does not mean you have no rights

If an energy company has approached you to buy or lease your land, you may have heard that these companies have the power of eminent domain in Texas. This is true.

Eminent domain is the government’s power to force landowners to sell their land, if necessary, for a public use. In Texas, the legislature has delegated that power to certain power companies when they build pipelines, transmission lines and infrastructure projects in the public interest.

That means they can force you to sell all or part of your land. They may be able to force you to allow an easement or right of way on your land. You may have no choice about the sale or lease.

That does not mean you have no rights. Both the U.S. and Texas constitutions require that the landowner be given just compensation for land taken by eminent domain.

Your rights when threatened with eminent domain

There are ways to challenge a company’s exercise of eminent domain. For example, you may be able to challenge whether the project is truly for a public use. You could attempt to challenge whether the company actually has the right of eminent domain.

However, there is a good chance that the company does have the authority to take your land and that the project will be considered a public use. If those are the case, you won’t be able to stop the taking of your land. You will, however, get to negotiate for just compensation.

Basically, just compensation is calculated by determining what a willing buyer would pay for the land on the open market, considering the land’s highest and best possible use.

If an energy company has approached you with an offer for compensation, be aware that you can likely negotiate for more than their initial offer.

What you can get depends, in part, on what the company is trying to take. If it seeks to take your entire parcel of land, the issue is determining how much you could otherwise get for the land. However, there are some situations where the energy company or governmental entity only seeks partial use of or access to your land.

When considering a company’s offer for an easement or right of way, be sure you fully understand the rights the company is taking in the lease. Every clause in the lease means something, and most are fully negotiable.

An experienced attorney will provide a full analysis of what your land is worth, even if what’s on the table is an easement or right of way. He or she will take into consideration whether the project will reduce the value of your land overall, whether water and mineral rights are to be included, and other issues that have a bearing on your property’s value.

Only when the full impact of the project on your land is understood can your lawyer negotiate just compensation. Be sure you work with someone who has experience in this area and can guide you through the process of negotiation.