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What does condemnation law mean by “public use?”

On Behalf of | Oct 18, 2019 | Government

If you learn that the Texas government plans to appropriate your land through condemnation, you may wonder if its plans are legal and, if they are, if there is anything you can do to fight the appropriation. Fortunately, though condemnation is certainly legal, you and other Texas property owners are not without rights. The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University explores the legal constraints on condemnation and how you can use them to your benefit.

Texas condemnation law places four legal constraints on governments that hope to appropriate private property: 1) Public use, 2) public necessity, 3) just or adequate compensation and 4) due process. This article will focus on public use.

At first glance, “public use” may seem clear-cut — if a government does not plan to use the appropriated property for the public’s benefit, the condemnation is illegal, right? Not necessarily. Unfortunately, the law does not clearly define “public use,” which means the term is open to interpretation. In each case, the deciding parties will determine the benefits to the public of the land’s acquisition. If the government can show that the public would gain some absolute right or use in business or undertaking from the transformed condemned property, it has sufficiently established “public use.”

However, in 2005, the state revised the statute regarding public use to include stipulations. After 2005, a private or government entity cannot take private property through eminent domain if the taking party plans to derive private benefit through the use of the property or for economic development. However, a party can appropriate private property for economic development if the development is merely a secondary purpose or if the development is for urban renewal purposes.

The revision to the condemnation statute does not apply to certain entities or uses. Those such entities and uses include navigational districts, port authorities or conservation districts; wastewater, water supply, drainage and flood control projects; utility services; hospitals, public parks and public buildings; sports and community venues; energy transporters or common carrier pipelines; waste disposal projects, museums, libraries or related facilities; and underground storage facilities.

This article is for educational purposes only. You should not use it as legal advice.