Condemnation proceedings occur frequently throughout Texas. For landowners, the process can be stressful, emotional, and confusing. An experienced condemnation lawyer can help you to navigate the process while ensuring that your rights are protected. But how do you choose the best condemnation lawyer for your case? In this article, we will outline some points to consider and provide some questions to ask prospective condemnation lawyers.
What is Condemnation and What is the Process?
Condemnation is a process in which the government or a company that has the government’s permission takes private property for public use under Texas eminent domain laws. The condemning party is required by law to follow certain procedures. Moreover, the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights afford landowners important rights to ensure that their interests are protected.
The most important of these rights requires the condemning authority to pay the landowner “just” and “adequate” compensation. The property must be appraised, and a formal offer made to the landowner. The landowner is entitled to a copy of the appraisal. If the landowner accepts the offer, then the proceedings are concluded. If not, then the process moves to a special commissioner’s hearing.
The condemning authority must file a petition with the court in the county where the property is located. The special commissioner determines just and adequate compensation and files the award with the Court. The condemning authority pays the award amount to the registry of the Court and then has the right to take possession of the property.
This is, however, an overly simplified description of the condemnation process in Texas. The reality is that Texas eminent domain laws and condemnation are highly complex, involving many deadlines and procedural requirements. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced Texas condemnation lawyer. Your condemnation lawyer can help you navigate the process and ensure that your rights are protected.
Points to Consider and Questions to Ask When Hiring a Condemnation Lawyer
Experience in condemnation cases
Experience is a key consideration when hiring any professional. You want a condemnation lawyer that has successfully represented landowners in condemnation cases within your jurisdiction. Ask what their experience is with eminent domain law. How many years of experience do they have practicing eminent domain law? How many clients have they represented? How many of these cases went to trial? What were the outcomes? A condemnation lawyer who cannot readily answer these questions is likely not the best choice.
The types of clients they represent
A condemnation lawyer may have many years of experience representing clients, but they might not be the right type of clients. Many condemnation lawyers represent condemning authorities or a mix of condemning authorities and landowners. A condemnation lawyer who’s friendly with the condemning authority or its counsel may not adequately represent your rights. Moreover, you want a lawyer that represents landowners.
The process of contesting condemnation actions is different than bringing them. Ask the condemnation lawyer what types of clients they represent. If they represent both, what percentage are landowners compared to government agencies?
Condemnation lawyer fees
Fee structures are a critical factor to consider when hiring any lawyer. Ask whether the condemnation lawyer charges by the hour, a flat rate, or operates on a contingency fee basis. If hourly, what is the rate for attorneys, paralegals, and support staff? If the condemnation lawyer charges a flat rate or works on a contingency fee basis, what services are included within the scope of representation? How are expenses and third-party fees handled? Ensure that all these terms are expressly stated in the retainer agreement. Having all this in writing helps avoid unexpected fees and surprises later in the case.
Does the condemnation lawyer have references?
Most condemnation lawyers are willing to provide client references or references from professionals such as real estate appraisers. (Appraisers estimate the fair market value of property and play a critical role in condemnation cases).
A condemnation lawyer who has client testimonials or references is probably competent and trustworthy.
Contact an Experienced Condemnation Lawyer Today
Condemnation proceedings can be incredibly stressful and confusing for landowners. If you’re facing condemnation, choosing an experienced condemnation lawyer is one of the most important decisions you will make.
The experienced condemnation lawyers at the Padua Law Firm have many years of experience representing landowners in condemnation proceedings throughout Texas. If you have questions about the process, contact us today to discuss your rights and options.