Chapter 2: State Acquisition by Eminent DomainAnchor: #i1001286
Section 1: Offer LettersAnchor: #i1018464
If acquisition by eminent domain (ED) becomes necessary, condemnation proceedings must be started by the acquiring agency. Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code sets forth certain requirements relating to offers made by condemning authorities. These requirements must be met in order to ensure that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has the authority to proceed to condemnation.Anchor: #i1024967
Strict Procedural Compliance Required
Courts have strictly construed any procedural failure or ambiguity against the condemning authority and in favor of the property owner. Failure to strictly comply with all statutory procedural requirements for negotiations and eminent domain may result in an abatement or even dismissal of the condemnation proceeding.Anchor: #i1018312
Section 21.0111 of the Property Code requires that TxDOT disclose to the landowner, by certified mail return receipt requested (CMRRR) at the time an initial offer is made, all appraisals produced or acquired by TxDOT relating to the owner's property and prepared within 10 years preceding the offer. For that reason, send the appraisal(s) and initial offer letter to the landowner by CMRRR. The landowner is entitled to at least 30 days to review the initial offer after its delivery before TxDOT can send a final offer. See 43 TAC 21.10(h) establishing a presumed date of delivery (5 days after mailing) when no evidence is available that the initial offer was delivered to the owner or the date of its delivery.
The Landowner's Bill of Rights, as described in and required by Section 21.0112 of the Property Code, should be included with the initial offer letter. A copy of the most current Landowner's Bill of Rights can be obtained from the Texas Attorney General website or the TxDOT website. It is available in both English and Spanish.Anchor: #i1001294
After (1) the landowner has had at least 30 days to review the initial offer and it is determined that the property interest needed cannot be acquired through negotiation (including administrative settlement), or (2) if there are title problems or environmental concerns that cannot be resolved, send to the owner, by regular U.S. mail and CMRRR, form ROW-N-FOL Final Offer Letter or other form of final offer appropriate to the specific to the nature of the acquisition, such as form ROW-N-FOLE Final Offer Letter (Easement).
In the caption of the final offer letter, describe the property being taken in such a way that it can easily be identified by the owner.
Pursuant to Section 21.0113 of the Property Code, the final offer must be at least equal to the amount of the written appraisal obtained and approved by TxDOT. An additional copy of the appraisal upon which the final offer letter is based should be included with the final offer.
The final offer letter should clearly state that the offer is conditioned upon the owner conveying clear title to the State. Section 21.0113 also requires that the final offer include a copy of the proposed deed, easement or other instrument for conveying the property or property interest sought to be acquired, including any applicable special clauses (e.g., easement preamble, bisection clauses or access addenda). The final offer letter should include the spouse, even if not identified on the title commitment since Texas law favors community property.
The final offer letter establishes a definite date when the offer expires. Section 21.0113 (b)(7) requires that the landowner is given at least 14 days to respond to the final offer letter before eminent domain proceedings can be filed. The letter is signed by the Right of Way (ROW) manager/supervisor or designated representative. A copy of both the initial and final offer letters and proof of delivery must be provided with the submission of form ROW-E-49 Request for ED Proceedings.
Do not deviate from the appropriate final offer letter except under special conditions such as unusual splits in ownership, ownership of unproven interests, and multiple ownership. To aid in preparing these letters, the following instructions and examples are guidelines to help eliminate possible misinterpretation of TxDOT's position by property owners.Anchor: #i1001344
Instructions and Examples for Special Circumstances:
- Anchor: #WPRDNULJ
- In some cases,
more than one person owns an interest in the property, and the percentage
of each interest can be verified.
A final offer letter may be addressed and mailed to each person individually and must clearly state that the amount being offered is for each person's individual interest. For example, assume that John Doe and Richard Roe each own a proven undivided one-half interest in a parcel valued at $1,000:
A final offer letter may be addressed and mailed to John Doe and should state:
“According to authorization by the Texas Transportation Commission, we hereby offer a total sum of $1,000 for the above captioned tract of land. Our records show that you own an undivided one-half interest in this parcel and, therefore, you are hereby offered the total sum of $500 for your undivided one-half interest.”
A similar letter may be addressed and mailed to Richard Roe.
- Or, send one final offer letter jointly
to all the various owners and forward copies to each one, provided
this letter shows the total amount being offered for the whole property
and the amount being offered for each individual interest. Assume
that John Doe and Richard Roe each own a proven undivided one-half
interest in a parcel valued at $1,000:
One letter may be addressed to all the owners jointly, and a copy sent to each. This letter should state:
“According to authorization by the Texas Transportation Commission, we hereby offer a total sum of $1,000.00 for the above captioned tract of land. Our records show that each of you owns an undivided one-half interest in this parcel and, therefore, each of you is hereby offered $500.00 for your undivided one-half interest.”
The latter method may be preferable because all owners know what is being offered to each individual owner.
- In most cases when there is a tenant with
a compensable interest, make the final offer to the fee owner. Occasionally,
when there is a compensable leasehold interest that is negotiated separately
from the fee, and either the fee owner or the lessee refuses to
negotiate, then both interests must be condemned together. The only
exception is the lessee's (or, occasionally, a fee owners) interest
for a in a commercial advertising sign structure that may be purchased separately
from the land, provided the structure is acquired simultaneously
with, or prior to, the closing of title of the interests in the
Except for lessee-owned billboards, address the final offer letter only to the fee owners and include the total amount of the approved value. The letter should state that (1) the amount being offered is the total amount for all interests acquired, and (2) for the fee owner to accept the offer, he must directly negotiate and obtain the release of all other property interests.
- Sometimes, it is impossible to break down
the interests to make an offer in a specific amount for each interest.
Address the final offer letter jointly to all persons having an interest, and mail a copy to each person. The letter should show that (1) the amount offered is a joint offer for the full amount of the interests acquired, and (2) the offer must be accepted by all parties. For example, the following applies when John Doe and Richard Roe each own some interest that cannot be broken down in a parcel valued at $1,000:
Address the letter to both John Doe and Richard Roe at their individual addresses (with a copy mailed to each) stating: “According to authorization by the Texas Transportation Commission, both of you are offered jointly the total sum of $1,000 for the entire property. For there to be effective acceptance of this offer, each of you must communicate acceptance to this office.”
- Mail a copy of the final offer letter
to each person known to hold fee title to the interest being acquired
regardless of their legal status. If the person is a minor, mail
a final offer letter to the person whether or not a guardianship
exists. If a guardianship exists, also send a copy of the final
offer letter to the guardian.
Follow the same procedure in cases where the owner of the interest to be acquired was legally declared mentally incompetent (or non compos mentis), or in any other situation where a guardianship exists.
- The final offer letter should point out
that the final offer depends on TxDOT receiving clear title.
For example, assume that the owner of a property interest valued at $1,000 lacks capacity to convey title to the property because the owner is a minor with no guardian. Address and mail the final offer letter to the minor. The letter should state: “You are hereby offered the total sum of $1,000 for clear title to your property and property rights.”
- If the property owner has provided written verification of legal representation, and TxDOT has been instructed by the legal representative not to communicate with the owner, send the final offer letter to the property owner in care of the attorney. Anchor: #GKLKMCNA
- If the property owner has indicated he/she has legal representation, but has not provided written verification, send the final offer letter to the property owner and copy the attorney.
Written Offers to Unknown or Unlocated Owners
To satisfy the requirement of making a written offer when the record owner (owners or their heirs) are unknown or cannot be located after due diligence, address the initial offer letter to the record owner at the record owner's last known address, as shown by local tax rolls. Also send a copy of this letter to the address of the subject property, if the address is different from the last known address. In the letter, state that it is the last known means of trying to locate the record owner, or the owner's heirs, and describe the efforts made to find the owner. Such letters should have the notation under TxDOT's return address: “Forwarding and Address Correction Requested.”
Suggested sources for locating people include:
- Anchor: #WUVLAFSO
- area phone books and local directories; Anchor: #YUWRAKHH
- directories on the internet; Anchor: #KWEIINVO
- people finder programs; Anchor: #XOBJFRPM
- neighbors at last known address; Anchor: #GGFNDEBN
- neighbors of the subject property interest; Anchor: #RTBSSBOV
- local utility companies; Anchor: #ELWBPTCN
- post office for forwarding address; Anchor: #RWGJACMO
- driver's license; Anchor: #JWTQTXFO
- probate records; Anchor: #UCDWVQAS
- property records; Anchor: #CIKMMUBN
- marriage license; Anchor: #NTGNRIRI
- voters' registration; Anchor: #LFQUGWUL
- civil or criminal court records; and Anchor: #JNFYCNVG
- witnesses or attorneys shown on any legal documents found.
Follow the procedure described above when a person without legal claim to a property interest (a "squatter," a mere possessor, or an unperfected adverse possessor) is occupying or using the premises. However, when the ED proceedings are filed, make this person without legal claim a party to the proceedings as an adverse possessor even if the owners are found.Anchor: #i1001523
Persons/Entities in BankruptcyAnchor: #i1001541
Title Update for Eminent Domain
Title for all property interests must be searched before making the initial offer. After the need for ED proceedings is determined, update the search for title information affecting the property interest.
If title insurance is involved, and upon the submission of form ROW-E-49 Request for ED Proceedings to the appropriate ROW attorney for review, notify the title company (1) that the property interest will be acquired by ED and (2) that an updated title report is requested. The title company must provide TxDOT with an updated industry-standard title commitment.
Form ROW-E-SubCheck Eminent Domain Package Submission Checklist and updated title information must be included in the submission of the form ROW-E-49 Request for ED Proceedings. The issue date of the commitment must be within 90 days of the date that the ROW attorney receives the submission.