Calling current private property protections “inadequate” and “tilted,” Texas Farm Bureau State Director Richard Cortese called on state lawmakers to reform Texas eminent domain law.
“Texas Farm Bureau believes that the private ownership of property is one of the cornerstones of our nation’s freedoms,” the Bell County farmer and rancher said in testimony before the House Committee on Land and Resource Management. “It is what has helped build our nation and our state. The changes we seek today are needed to strengthen this basic right and to protect the rights of property owners.”
Texas court rulings allow condemners to make low initial offers to property owners without fear of repercussion, Cortese said. In fact, because there are no repercussions, some entities no longer view eminent domain as a last resort.
"Instead, they view it as an opportunity to purchase property as cheaply as possible," Cortese said.
Eminent domain law should be changed to require good faith offers from all condemning entities, Cortese said. Those entities should also be required to pay all fees the landowner incurs in challenging unfair offers.
“Property owners receiving low-ball offers face a difficult choice,” Cortese said. “They may accept the low offer or fight to receive fair market value. Property owners that choose to fight incur court costs, attorney’s fees and expert witness fees that must be paid from the court awarded damages they receive for their land. Either way, the property owner loses.”
Beyond compensation, eminent domain laws should factor diminished access into the equation. When a private property owner faces loss of access to his property, it’s simply a matter of fairness that he or she be compensated for that loss, Cortese said. He said the Texas Department of Transportation currently takes access without compensation.
“In some cases, they are selling access to a property owner whose access they condemned," he said. "They should be required to pay property owners for taking a driveway just as they charge property owners to have a driveway. Allowing this unfair practice to continue perpetuates a system that disregards the rights and needs of property owners during the design of highways.”
This lack of fair compensation is in sharp contrast to other states, Cortese noted.
“A review of nine other states, including California and Florida, shows that seven of those states consider and allow compensation for factors that Texas denies,” Cortese said.