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Dallas Eminent Domain Law Blog

Bullet train builders say they'll use eminent domain if necessary

The company behind a multibillion-dollar high-speed railway is touting the project as a revolutionary step in the state’s transportation network. What’s unclear, however, is how many property owners might lose some of their land to make this corporation’s vision a reality.

Texas Central is forging ahead with its proposal – a newly built railway that would get passengers from Houston to Dallas in about 90 minutes – even as legal questions linger. Texans along the proposed 240-mile route may find it particularly worrisome to read some recent comments from the company about the use of eminent domain.

What projects see the use of eminent domain?

Under eminent domain and condemnation laws, the government may have the rights to take your property, pay you a fair value for it and use it for a project that is deemed necessary for the general good of the country.

In a place like the United States, where personal property rights are generally very important, this can be a controversial move. Even though you receive compensation in exchange, you likely never wanted to make that sale in the first place.

Eminent domain allows for public works, but you do have rights

Essentially, the goal of eminent domain laws is simply to say that there are times, even in the United States, where the individual may have to sacrifice something for the greater good. This law allows the government to take private land for use in various public projects.

One of the most common examples is taking farmland to build or expand a highway. It may be impossible for the public road to go anywhere else or, even if it is possible, it may be unnecessarily expensive to circumnavigate that public property. To avoid this drain on taxes and to ensure that the roads are safe and efficient, the government will force the sale of the land.

What exactly is a regulatory taking?

From time to time, government agencies and private parties alike will approach individuals who own sizeable parcels of land to let them know of their interest in taking ownership of it. Both parties generally offer in-kind compensation for the property that they are looking to buy. This is where the similarities in approaches end, however.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States authorizes government agencies to seize parcels from landowners even if they are not interested in giving the land up. The amendment stipulates that the landowner must in return receive "just compensation," i.e., its fair market or an appraised value for it.

Know your rights when you receive a condemnation notice

You've received notice that your property is subject to condemnation, or eminent domain. That means a government agency wants to take your property for a public use, such as a road.

That's within the law. But what are your rights as a property owner when you receive that notice?

What projects qualify as public use for eminent domain?

One of the key pieces of eminent domain law is the idea of public use. For an authorized entity to condemn an individual’s property, not only must they offer fair compensation, but the final project must be beneficial to the public.

But what qualifies as public use? It’s somewhat of a tricky question.

Fighting for compensation with an inverse condemnation claim

Under eminent domain laws, which emanate from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, private property cannot be seized by the government for public use "without just compensation." However, there are times when landowners don't receive compensation. It's called inverse condemnation.

That occurs when the government denies that the landowner's property has been taken. How is it able to do that? Let's look at some examples.

Getting just compensation for condemned property

According to U.S. law, the government can seize private property for public use. This power is called eminent domain. However, according to the U.S. Constitution, the government must provide the landowner "just compensation" for the land it condemns.

But determining what exactly is "just compensation" property can be a complicated process.

Working toward 'just compensation'

The government notifies you of its intent to take possession of your land to use for a government project. This is legal in some situations, using eminent domain laws.

To do it, the government uses a legal procedure known as "condemnation." It has the ability to use this process because of the power of eminent domain. It's important to understand that the two are similar and they are related, but they are not the same.

Proposed high-speed railway raises questions about eminent domain

When the skyline out your front door is all grass and trees, you might find it hard to imagine having to defend your property from big businesses and their downtown lawyers. But that’s the situation facing the rural Texans who live along the proposed high-speed rail route from Dallas to Houston.

Texas Central Partners LLC has been buying up land along the 240-mile stretch of land and has said it might use eminent domain when owners object. However, the developer will first have to face three different types of questions. The answers to these questions will likely decide whether landowners can block the use of their land.

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