Texas Agriculture December 2, 2016 : Page 23

Eminent domain unlocks private property in Texas By Julie Tomascik Associate Editor Texas property owners face an unbalanced set of laws in the emi-nent domain process. And the lack of fairness often unlocks the property rights of landowners. The eminent domain process can come at a big cost. Landowners are often left grappling with a lowball offer and face a long, expensive bat-tle in court. “In many eminent domain cases, Texas landowners are left trying to defend a piece of property that a family has spent a lifetime trying to pay for,” Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) Associate Legislative Director Ma-rissa Patton said. “A lowball offer, coupled with court fees to fight for a fairer offer, seems like a disservice to Texans.” That’s why the Texans for Prop-erty Rights coalition, which includes TFB and 17 other agricultural or-ganizations, is seeking eminent do-main reform in 2017. “Eminent domain and the con-demnation process isn’t a willing buyer and willing seller transaction,” Patton said. “Texas landowners need a fairer process when confronted with condemnation, and we’re work-ing toward that in the upcoming leg-islative session.” Currently, landowners who go to court to fight for just compensation are often never made whole when their property is taken due to attor-ney’s fees and other legal costs. The coalition believes condemn-ing entities should be required to pay the costs and fees incurred by property owners in eminent domain proceedings if final damages award-ed are greater than 125 percent of the entity’s initial offer. Other states, like Florida, employ a similar approach. “Right now, landowners who re-fuse survey access to entities with eminent domain power can be sued and made to pay the attorney’s fees of the condemning entity. But when that entity lowballs the landowner on the property’s value, the con-demning entity doesn’t have to suf-fer the same consequences,” Patton said. This legislation, she noted, would give condemnors an incentive to provide a more fair and reasonable offer, which could also result in the project being completed quicker. “Ideally, this would create a fairer outcome for landowners, while also reducing expensive and time-con-suming litigation. More landowners getting better offers upfront could mean fewer trips to the courthouse,” Patton said. “Although laws have been passed to improve the use of eminent do-main in Texas in 2009 and 2011, there’s still work to be done,” Patton said. “Many landowners still experi-ence unfortunate takings by entities that exercise this extreme power.” The coalition also is working to-ward property rights protection in a bona fide offer, along with giving landowners the ability to request royalty payments as an option in ne-gotiating payment. Valuation of easements, bond requirements, appraisals and pos-session and use agreements are additional topics slated for possible reform in the 85th Texas Legisla-ture. “Texas landowners continue to struggle with an unbalanced set of laws. It’s time for that to change,” Patton said. “Texans are proud pri-vate property owners, and we want to keep it that way for generations to come.” And in Texas, where about 95 per-cent of the land is privately owned, more protection is needed for land-owners. For more information and up-dates on eminent domain, visit tex-ansforpropertyrights.com. D ECEMBER 2 , 2016 23

Eminent Domain Unlocks Private Property in Texas

Julie Tomascik

Texas property owners face an unbalanced set of laws in the eminent domain process. And the lack of fairness often unlocks the property rights of landowners.

The eminent domain process can come at a big cost. Landowners are often left grappling with a lowball offer and face a long, expensive battle in court.

“In many eminent domain cases, Texas landowners are left trying to defend a piece of property that a family has spent a lifetime trying to pay for,” Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) Associate Legislative Director Marissa Patton said. “A lowball offer, coupled with court fees to fight for a fairer offer, seems like a disservice to Texans.”

That’s why the Texans for Property Rights coalition, which includes TFB and 17 other agricultural organizations, is seeking eminent domain reform in 2017.

“Eminent domain and the condemnation process isn’t a willing buyer and willing seller transaction,” Patton said. “Texas landowners need a fairer process when confronted with condemnation, and we’re working toward that in the upcoming legislative session.”

Currently, landowners who go to court to fight for just compensation are often never made whole when their property is taken due to attorney’s fees and other legal costs.

The coalition believes condemning entities should be required to pay the costs and fees incurred by property owners in eminent domain proceedings if final damages awarded are greater than 125 percent of the entity’s initial offer.

Other states, like Florida, employ a similar approach.

“Right now, landowners who refuse survey access to entities with eminent domain power can be sued and made to pay the attorney’s fees of the condemning entity. But when that entity lowballs the landowner on the property’s value, the condemning entity doesn’t have to suffer the same consequences,” Patton said.

This legislation, she noted, would give condemnors an incentive to provide a more fair and reasonable offer, which could also result in the project being completed quicker.

“Ideally, this would create a fairer outcome for landowners, while also reducing expensive and time-consuming litigation. More landowners getting better offers upfront could mean fewer trips to the courthouse,” Patton said.

“Although laws have been passed to improve the use of eminent domain in Texas in 2009 and 2011, there’s still work to be done,” Patton said. “Many landowners still experience unfortunate takings by entities that exercise this extreme power.”

The coalition also is working toward property rights protection in a bona fide offer, along with giving landowners the ability to request royalty payments as an option in negotiating payment.

Valuation of easements, bond requirements, appraisals and possession and use agreements are additional topics slated for possible reform in the 85th Texas Legislature.

“Texas landowners continue to struggle with an unbalanced set of laws. It’s time for that to change,” Patton said. “Texans are proud private property owners, and we want to keep it that way for generations to come.”

And in Texas, where about 95 percent of the land is privately owned, more protection is needed for landowners.

For more information and updates on eminent domain, visit texansforpropertyrights.com.

Read the full article at http://texasagriculture.texasfarmbureau.org/article/Eminent+Domain+Unlocks+Private+Property+in+Texas/2653528/363631/article.html.

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