An elderly Texas man could have lost his home of 46 years due to eminent domain laws in Texas. Surely, the notices and offers came because something vital to the public needed to be built there? A street, a pipeline, or power lines? That's the purpose of eminent domain laws, right?

No. He nearly lost his house because the neighboring school wanted a bigger parking lot for their high school football stadium.

To me, that seems pretty... petty and unfair. It seems like bullying. And many people in the community felt the same way. After friends and neighbors rallied around him, the Aldine ISD school district decided not to pursue eminent domain proceedings against Travis Upchurch's property.

Travis Upchurch avoided his home becoming a parking lot- but could you in the same situation? Let's take a look at Texas eminent domain laws.

Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash
Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

Every Texas landowner has a "Bill of Rights" that states that you are entitled to adequate compensation if your land is seized for public use. That sounds fair until we start scratching the surface. Who defines "adequate" compensation, and what qualifies as "public use"?

Adequate compensation: the entity seeking your land must use a certified appraiser to assess the fair value of your property. But what if you feel the value is unfair? You are allowed to seek your own appraisal, but of course, that will cost you. If you are poor, this may not be an option for you. What if the value of your property is so low that you will be unable to afford a new place to live?

If you do not agree with the amount proposed, the buying entity will have to go through a condemnation proceeding. This is a potentially lengthy process that has a somewhat elaborate set of rules you can read on the Land Owner's Bill of Rights. They won't decide that you can keep your property- they will only come to a quorum about the fair value. If you are still unsatisfied with the amount proposed, you can go take it to a jury and you could still then appeal the jury's decision- this might be a good tactic to delay the public project and possibly shake them off, but it'll likely cost you a ton in lawyer and filing fees.

Public Use: Public use has traditionally been for vital public infrastructure like roads, dams, powerlines, pipelines, railroads, public buildings like courthouses etc. It has also been used to establish parks. It has also been used to aid in production during times of war and more recently in American history- to preserve endangered species.

Sadly, there are many examples of eminent domain being abused for private or unethical interests. To me, "high school stadium parking lot" seems to fit in that category and I'm glad Upchurch will get to live out his days as most Texans want to live- independently and on their private land.

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