Womack McClish Wall & Foster, P.C., based in Austin, Texas, has represented a wide variety of business and individual landowners throughout the State of Texas in eminent domain and condemnation proceedings, successfully helping them obtain compensation in an amount higher than the government's original offer. With a combined 75 years of dedicated experience in this area, our lawyers provide expertise at every step of the condemnation process.
The condemnation process is the process by which the government exercises its right of eminent domain - its right to take the property of citizens for "public use" in exchange for "just compensation." Land valuation is a very important part of the process because the government generally has the power to compel you to transfer title to your property, therefore, your best option is to negotiate the highest possible price for your land. Land valuation is complex and sometimes the value of what is being taken depends on the rights and entitlements that are acquired, as well as the ones that are left in the landowner. In other words, sometimes an acre of land is more than just an acre of land, and it takes experience and skill to identify and analyze these issues. In many instances, these issues can be sorted out through negotiation, and in other instances they cannot be resolved in negotiation. Either way, competent and experienced counsel is a valuable asset.
- Initial Offer/Negotiation
Whether or not your property is ultimately taken, the government begins the condemnation process with an offer to purchase your property. The offer must be based on the market value of your property, determined by the government's investigation and assessment of the property. At the time of its offer, the government must disclose to you any reports and appraisals it used to determine the value of your property. The government must also provide you with what is called a "Landowner's Bill of Rights Statement," informing you of your rights and options with respect to the condemnation process. After the government provides you with its valuation information and the "Landowner's Bill of Rights Statement," negotiations are entertained and, in many cases, a satisfactory result can be achieved. Skilled and experienced counsel is a key asset at this stage.
- Special Commissioners Hearing
If negotiations fail, the government starts the condemnation process by filing a condemnation petition with the court in the county where the property or part of the property is located. The court will then appoint three landowner citizens from your county as Special Commissioners, who will decide on the issue of fair compensation at a Special Commissioners Hearing. At this hearing, the Special Commissioners hear appraisal evidence on damages related to:
- The value of the property being condemned;
- The injury or harm to the property owner;
- Any benefits or added value to the property owner's remaining property as a result of the government's proposed use; and
- The intended use of the property being taken.
The Special Commissioners may also take into account any injuries and benefits which are specific to you and your use of your particular piece of land. Based on the evidence presented, the Special Commissioners will decide the amount of compensation and issue an award. The award may also include relocation and other costs in some circumstances. After this proceeding, and on the day the government deposits the awarded compensation, the government receives the right to possess your property. It is important to present the best possible case at the hearing.
- Jury Trial/Appeal
After the Special Commissioners Hearing, either side has a right to object to the amount of compensation by filing a written statement of objection with the court. In addition, certain special pleas are filed at this stage. These objections convert the case into what could ultimately be a civil jury trial. At this stage of the process, landowners can object not only to the valuation of their property, but also to the government's proposed use. In other words, the landowner can object that the government is taking their property for a use that is not a recognized "public use." After a trial, either party may appeal the court's decision to the Texas Courts of Appeal. Competent and experienced counsel is a valuable asset during the civil trial and appeals stage of the process.
Call Womack McClish Wall & Foster, P.C. at (512) 474-9875 to discuss your case and schedule a consultation with an experienced eminent domain and condemnation attorney.