Landowner's Bill of Rights Act Takes Effect
Outlines Landowner's Rights, Must be Provided by Condemning Entity
During the 80th Legislative Session the Texas House of Representatives and Senate joined together to increase the private property rights of Texas landowners. Although one of the major efforts, House Bill 2006, was ultimately vetoed by the governor and therefore did not become law, another important measure, House Bill 1495, did receive the governor's signature and is now law. On February 1st of this year, House Bill 1495, The Landowner's Bill of Rights Act, became a part of Texas law and applies to all cases in which private property is to be taken under eminent domain authority.
The Trans-Texas Corridor has brought private property rights to the forefront of public attention and has prompted lawmakers to strengthen the rights of private property owners in Texas. Prior to the passage of House Bill 1495 there was no legal requirement that an entity seeking to acquire a private property owner's land, through the exercise of eminent domain authority, inform the landowner of their statutory and constitutional rights. House Bill 1495 rectifies that glaring shortcoming in previous law by requiring that the condemning entity provide the landowner with "The Landowner's Bill of Rights."
"The Landowner's Bill of Rights" was produced by the Office of the Attorney General and was composed, as mandated by HB 1495, in plain language designed to be easily understood by the average property owner. The document outlines the condemnation procedure, the condemning entity's obligations, and the property owner's options during a condemnation, including the property owner's right to object to and appeal an amount of damages awarded. It can be viewed online by visiting the Office of the Attorney General's website (www.oag.state.tx.us).
While House Bill 1495 is an important step forward in the safeguarding of Texans' private property rights, another key piece of legislation failed to pass into law due to a gubernatorial veto. That measure, House Bill 2006, would have improved current law by requiring the condemning entity to take a record vote at a public hearing, make a good faith effort to acquire the property by voluntary sale or lease (and provide for payment of the landowner's legal fees if a court found such effort was not made), and require the condemning entity to provide the landowner with all documents relating to the condemnation upon a request made pursuant to the Public Information Act.
House Bill 2006 offered other important and needed protections such as a definition of public use (proof of public use is a prerequisite to the application of eminent domain authority) and the right of a landowner to repurchase condemned property at the price the entity paid at the time of acquisition if unused for ten years.
One final provision of the bill that should be mentioned is an amendment that I added to the bill in the senate. The amendment (also a standalone bill, Senate Bill 1711) would have ensured that in cases in which condemnation of a portion of a landowner's property resulted in diminished access to the remaining property, the landowner would regain equal access to the property or be compensated. To illustrate, imagine a rectangular piece of land accessible from both the north and south. Now imagine that a condemnation proceeding resulted in the loss of one of those entryways. In the case of a 4 mile strip of land such a loss might not be significant, but in the case of a 40 mile strip, that loss would be of great significance, resulting in greatly diminished access. Unfortunately, and due solely to the veto of House Bill 2006, neither equal access nor damages are available today in Texas.
"During the next legislative session private property rights will receive much attention, and rightfully so," said Senator Hegar. "They are among the most fundamental of our freedoms and must be strengthened to achieve a proper balance between the rights of individuals and the obligations of the state. I eagerly await the opportunity to work with my fellow legislators to improve the protections afforded Texas' landowners by law."
Senator Hegar is currently serving his first term in the Texas Senate after serving two terms in the House of Representatives. He is a 6th generation Texan, and earns a living farming rice and corn on land that has been in his family since the mid 1800s. The Hegars reside in Katy, Texas.