What Are Your Rights as a Landowner Facing Condemnation?
What are your rights as a landowner facing property condemnation? Attorney Philip Hundl provides that information during this property condemnation seminar in El Campo, Texas. Call or text 800-266-4870 for an appointment at any of our offices. Our appointments can be in-person, online or by phone, and we serve clients all over Texas.
Attorney Philip Hundl has many years of experience representing property owners in property condemnation matters. He’s a Shareholder in the law firm of Wadler, Perches, Hundl & Kerlick with offices in Wharton, Matagorda and Fort Bend Counties. Mr. Hundl represents landowners in property condemnation and eminent domain matters throughout South Texas. Call 800-266-4870 for an appointment with Mr. Hundl.
The presentation starts by reviewing the current pipeline property condemnation projects in South Texas. Then Mr. Hundl talks about how you can safeguard your rights in negotiating the easement provisions. He recommends that you hire an experienced property condemnation attorney to help you through the process, but he also talks about specific points that you should think about in negotiating the easement. Mr. Hundl also talks about experts and then explains how attorney’s fees are typically calculated in property condemnation cases.
Summary of the Property Condemnation Video
– – Most of you all know me, Philip Hundl. I’m an attorney. What a lot of folks didn’t know about me is I do practice property condemnation law on the landowner’s side. Folks who know me often think I do more probate litigation, commercial litigation, and civil litigation.
How this started for me was many years ago, I had former clients call my office and say, “hey, Philip, I’d like for you to take a look at this easement, a pipeline easement”. Okay, great.
Then they’d say, “I’d like you to, you know, work on the terms of it for me”.
Okay, great. Then they’d say, “Yeah, you know, they told me one thing, but it really looks like it says something different”.
And then when I looked at it, they had already signed it. And, you know, it frustrated me, because unbeknownst to them, they had signed something that they didn’t really know what they were signing, and they needed help with it.
I’ve seen some statistics, and I don’t know if these are true or not, but I’ve seen statistics from other lawyers that do property condemnation work that say 60 to 80% of the land owners that are subject to a property condemnation project sign the first document they get and take the first offer they get.
So, and we’ll talk all about that, but that’s why I have started doing this type of work. I enjoy this type of work. I do a lot of other land litigation-type work such as partitions. I think everyone knows families that own land, and then they partition the land because it passes down, and you have undivided interest. So I do a lot of that work as well.
Some of you all know that I’m an Aggie. I’m a big Aggie football fan, and so I’m getting excited about the upcoming year. I’m from Wharton County, I’m from here. I grew up in Wharton, now live in El Campo. I’m from the County, and these are projects that affect the County, so it’s near and dear to my heart.
Property Condemnation Projects in Southeast Texas
Let’s talk about what kind of projects are property condemnation projects. So, we’re here to talk about some pipeline projects. Yes, those are real common, especially common here in the Gulf Coast area. If you look at a map from the Texas Railroad Commission it looks like a crossword puzzle with lines everywhere.
There are pipelines that cross the Gulf Coast area going to the coast, primarily Corpus, Sweeney, Freeport, so, lots of pipelines, and there will continue to be lots of pipelines. Highway projects, we’re starting to see obviously the expansion of Highway 59 through, you know, from Fort Bend County through Wharton County, and it’s going to continue south. So there, and they change the name of the phases, but I believe they’re finishing up phase one, going to start phase two of the Highway 59 project. I’m handling some of those condemnation matters on the highway expansion. Asyou know, the state of Texas, as TxDOT is taking property along Highway 59.
The difference between the pipeline and the highway cases, is that with the highway cases, they are taking a fee simple interest. They’re not getting an easement. They’re taking the land to permanently be part of the highway in the state of Texas. The pipeline cases, most of the time are, they’re acquiring easements.
What is an easement? We’ll talk more about that, but they’re acquiring a right to do something on your property, but you still own the land. You own the land, but you’re subject to a right that they have, and their right is to run a pipeline on your property.
From time to time, we’ll see pipeline companies want to acquire and try to acquire fee simple interest, in other words, your actual dirt, your actual land, for valve sites, compression sites, things like that.
Power lines, yes, from time to time. Not as talked about, but quite a few pipelines, you know, run through this area. We have the South Texas Nuclear Project, and so there’s main, you know, lots of power lines running from the South Texas Nuclear Project and LCRA,
As you’ll see on the miscellaneous slide, there’s other miscellaneous categories of property condemnation projects, from canals, water lines, sewer lines, municipal water sewer lines, things like that.
Drainage projects. I have LCRA mentioned because LCRA, from time to time, will have condemnation matters on canals, acquiring the right to own a canal, either in fee simple or an easement, and LCRA, as you know, also has dams on the Colorado River that create power, so they also have power lines, too.
All right, next, this is just one of the many maps that you can find and that I’ve seen of some major pipeline projects. This doesn’t include a lot of the smaller pipeline projects in the area. But this is just a look at the state-wide projects. These are the main ones, as you can see.
The one that says P66/Enbridge, that’s the Gray Oak line. All these pipelines essentially originate from the Permian and come to the Gulf Coast, either to Mont Belvieu, Freeport, or Corpus.
Next slide. So, specifically, the Gray Oak. You know, these are joint venture projects normally among many corporate companies or corporations. They’re a huge capital investment by these companies, so they like to share the risk. Phillips 66 and Andeavor are the joint venture partners in the Gray Oak.
Enbridge, as you saw, was mentioned because it has an option to be part of the participation, and the completion, I always say these are somewhat moving targets, but their latest news release says, you know, end of 2019 for the Gray Oak pipeline. I’ve seen numbers for the estimated investment in the Gray Oak line of two billion dollars. Recently announced, yeah, they expect to spend two billion dollars building, and the capacity is 800,000 barrels a day, so, that’s the Gray Oak line, and then here’s a picture of the Gray Oak line.
Next slide will also show, I’m showing this because the Sand Hill, DCP Sand Hill line, the Gray Oak essentially runs parallel to that, okay? So, if your, you know, if your property is affected by the DCP or was affected by the DCP Sand Hill line, you’re probably going to be affected by the Gray Oak line.
So, now let’s back up to the other slides. One more, yeah. And then the other one that maybe you’ve heard about, maybe you haven’t, it’s called the P2K or Permian 2 Katy line, and it looks like I misspelled Katy without a T. It’s a joint venture with Sempra and Midstream and even Boardwalk Pipeline Partners. Maybe Boardwalk, you know, is a name you’re familiar with, because they had a pipeline several years ago that they constructed in Wharton County called the Gulf South line or the Coastal Header project, and that’s the Boardwalk Partners.
So, they’re looking to complete this P2K line third quarter or, you know, end of 2020. Let’s jump back now to the map of the P2K line. So that’s what the P2K line looks like. So, from the Permian to, you know, Katy, and that’s, but it splits off and joins this Coastal Bend Header, the Gulf South line. You know, that line runs through the Egypt-Lissie area down through Boling, Pledger, and then onto, to Shreveport.
So, those are the, you know, there’s another project I didn’t mention, buy you’ve probably heard of this one. It’s called the EPIC Y pipeline. Not going to come through our area here, but it goes through Corpus, and there’s lots of buzz about that, because that’s going to be a huge, huge capital investment by those companies.
So the right to condemn property. This is actually something that was brought up by one of you this morning, and we can talk about that. You know, the state, right? Who’s the state? Well, the State of Texas, the city, the county. They have the right to condemn property, to take your property.
Eminent domain, you know, the power is eminent domain, and the process is property condemnation. Quasi-governmental organizations may have the power of eminent domain. The best example I can give, and I have several cases of, you know, I’ve dealt with the LCRA, the Lower Colorado River Authority and other river authorities, the Brazos River Authority, the Guadalupe River Authority.
So those are quasi-governmental organizations. They operate on their own. They have a board of directors. But those boards of directors are appointed by the state legislature or the governor, approved by the state legislature. So, so, you know, not to forget about quasi-governmental entities, and then private, for-profit companies or entities, just what we mentioned about with pipelines. They have the right of eminent domain. They have the power of eminent domain, and their reasoning or the authority in which they get that is because it has been the work that they’re doing or the projects they’re doing, it’s for infrastructure, and it’s for a public purpose.
We could spend all day debating whether, you know, it is or isn’t for a public purpose, but it has been established in most cases that a pipeline transporting petroleum products or, you know, natural gas is been found and shown to be for a public purpose. There’s been lots of litigation over the last several years over some famous cases. You know, it’s called the Texas Rice case that talks about, well, is it or isn’t it for a public purpose, but for our purposes today, we’re going to assume that these private entities, these pipeline companies, you know, will have the power of eminent domain.
For pipelines, you know, there’s, there’s, you’ll hear and see about a T4 permanent, a check-the-box railroad commission permit that’s a permanent process they have to go through, you know, in the qualification for property condemnation or to acquire power of eminent domain to begin their pipeline work or to acquire an easement or fee simple interest through condemnation, so.
Right of Way Agents in Property Condemnation
Next slide. I put this in here, this slide. I want to talk about right of way agents. Why, because that’s going to be the first person that you probably encounter. So, you know, as landowners here, you, you know, go to the mailbox, and the next thing you know, you have a letter in the mail, or you have a phone call from someone, you know, asking you about the letter that you probably haven’t even gotten yet, but you will get soon. And that person is a right of way agent.
I know lots of right of way agents, and for the most part, you know, they’re good folks. Unfortunately, like with anything, there’s a few bad apples sometimes, and with those right of way agents, I always like to warn landowners, be careful, and as you see on the bottom of the slide, I say be careful with right of way agents and your communication with right of way agents.
Understand that, just like, you know, as a property condemnaton lawyer, I have a client that I represent, the right of way agent has a client that they represent, and they represent the pipeline company. They don’t represent you. Sometimes, they want to, you know, play good cop, bad cop, and they’re the good cop, and the pipeline company’s the bad cop, or they want to seem like they’re a neutral or a mediator or a facilitator.
You know, make no mistake: they have a job, and their job is to acquire the pipeline easement from you. Their job is to get you to sign the easement document and come to some agreement on monetary payment. The right of way agent’s objective also is to do that as cheaply as possible.
So, I always equate them sometimes, their tactics to, you know, we recently went car shopping, and, you know, some salesman said, hey, take a look, no pressure. And we did take a look at lots of different models of cars, and there wasn’t any pressure. Other guys, you know, they seemed like they were right behind us, you know, on our heels, and they, I felt the pressure, right?
So, many right of way agents do put a lot of pressure on land owners. I think it’s a tactic that actually doesn’t work, but some of them don’t know that still, and they still try it. So, you know, they’re also, and this is not a generalization of all right of way agents. I’m going to repeat, I work with right of way agents all the time, and, you know, most of them are are very professional, and I don’t have a problem with those.
However, many of them, or some right of way agents misrepresent what the easement says and what the easement will do to the landowner’s property. In my original example, how I became very passionate about property condemnation is they promised the landowner, don’t worry about it. You know, we’ll fix it later, or sign this one and, you know, they’ll be some other version I guess that you sign. I was very confused by that, but, you know, once again, that was, to me, a false promise. And there’s, you know, don’t rush to sign.
You know, part of the strategy is and what the right of way agents will say is, you know, if you don’t sign now, you know, we’re going to file against you. You know, the pipeline company will sue you. You know, yes if they file against you, they are suing you. It’s a property condemnation, actually. That’s not a misrepresentation, but the very fact that, you know, you have to hurry up and sign, or, you know, bad things will happen to you, that’s not always the case.
So, don’t rush, don’t feel like you are pressured to sign or rushed to sign. So, you know, with right of way agents, can you talk to ’em? Sure, talk to ’em. I always say it’s better to listen sometimes than talk. You know, also, you know, always be careful with setting a certain expectation or letting them know what your expectation is. And why do I say that? Because I don’t, early on in this process, I don’t think you may have all the information to be able to set an expectation of what you should or shouldn’t receive. So, we’ll go into that in a minute, so, next.
Negotiating in Property Condemnation
Reject the First Offer
Here are the do’s and don’ts of negotiating. So, do reject the first offer and the proposed easement agreement. So I can flip it around and say don’t accept the first one, but I’m saying do reject it. So, reject it.
Don’t Provide Property Information
Don’t provide information to the right of way agent, because you don’t have to. You know, and they love to ask you about, you know, the land and the production, productivity of the land, valuations of the land, and, you know, if you’ve had valuations done recently, or you name it. They want more information. Why do they want more information? Because they want to be able to prove to you why you should accept their number, okay?
Don’t Agree on the Easement Price First
Don’t agree on a monetary number first, and I’ll explain why. Do work on the non-monetary terms first, you know, of the easement agreement. You know, then focus on the money, and don’t rush to sign. Sorry I’m going to say that multiple times, but don’t rush to sign something, okay? Key terms of the easement agreement.
Why focus on the non-monetary items first? Well, if the pipeline company, you know, the first version that you will see, and you’ve all seen the first version of the proposed easement agreement, it’s very pipeline friendly. No surprise. Don’t be mad about that. You shouldn’t be surprised. The pipeline company wants a very favorable easement.
Now, this is where the work starts, right? We start marking it up, and as a landowner, mark it up, you know, so that when you do go speak to a lawyer, and I recommend you speak to a property condemnation lawyer, but when you speak to a lawyer, or if you choose not to, but you want to speak to the pipeline company or the right of way agent, you’ve got notes on things you want to change.
Make Sure the Easement Is Not a Blanket Easement
So mark it up, and work on the non-monetary first. So think about, think about what the document says. Look at what the document says, and first, first and foremost, you know, what’s the easement look like? Is it a specific easement or a blanket easement? Nowadays, I’m going to say, you know, they’re probably not going to be a pipeline, you know, a proposed pipeline easement that’s going to be a blanket easement. What about, you know, let’s look at pipeline easements from what, the 50s and the 60s. Those were blanket easements that said, you know, 50-foot right of way across this tract of land. They weren’t specific on where that pipeline was going to go. So make sure it’s not a blanket easement.
Make Sure the Easement is Non-Exclusive
The non-exclusive easement or non-exclusivity. Make sure it’s not an exclusive easement just for, you know, Phillips 66, but a non-exclusive. Therefore, other things could go in that easement area. Other pipelines could go in that other, in that easement area.
Limit the Key Terms of the Easement
The easement width, obviously you want to determine that, and that’s something you can negotiate sometimes. Limit the number of pipelines. You know, have I oftentimes seen pipeline companies or the LCRA or, you know, other water authorities attempt to put more pipelines in an easement? Of course they have. Have they limited those when pushed? Oftentimes.
Limit the type of products that can run in the line. Of course, the pipeline company will want the flexibility to be able to run anything through the line that they want. Well, try to narrow that down if you can. So as you can see, we’re trying to narrow and restrict the terms of the easement as much as possible.
Limit the pipeline diameter. You know, the pipeline company initially of course knows the diameter of the pipeline, but I like to limit that so that in the future, they don’t attempt to place a larger pipeline there, and if they do, then obviously, you’re back to negotiating on increased diameter.
Depth requirement, this is something big, and there’s a long list of all different key terms in an easement to go over. These are just some, you know, some of the highlights, and I’ve got more on the next slide, but the depth requirement, you know, we’re always concerned about that because of farming. I think a standard rule of thumb, most pipeline companies will say 48 inches, no problem, but what if you want to do something more on the property than just farm or run cattle at some point? You may want that pipeline a lot deeper, 60 inches or more, right, if you’re going to have heavy traffic over it.
Other key terms that I like to highlight and mention is, you know, what about, you know, surface facilities? A lot of times, these pipeline easements will allow pipeline companies to do all kinds, all sorts of things on the surface as well. You know, the landowner doesn’t think about those possibilities in the future, and it may not be part of the original, you know, engineering schematic or diagram or plan or project, and then next thing you know, if they have the flexibility or option to put surface facilities in the easement area, they may decide to do that. So, so be careful with that. If they, you know, do plan on putting surface facilities in the easement, then, you know, that equates to more money, so, reserve the surface use. Make sure you can still use the surface for as many things as possible. I’ve oftentimes seen easement agreements that, and these are easement agreements that we were in condemnation over, you know, they filed suit and we will still arguing about allowing us to do something over the easement area, you know, being able to cross the easement area. So they had very onerous easement, proposed easements.
Double-ditching. You all, I believe, know about this. It always surprises me when I’m discussing or cross-examining, you know, the engineers of these projects and I say, you know, is the pipeline company going to double-ditch? And they go, what’s that? We don’t know what that is. Oftentimes in their easement agreement, it will be in there. But the double-ditching is taking the topsoil and putting it on one side and taking the undersoil and putting it on another, and then putting it back the same way where you don’t have good topsoil deep down in the ground.
Add additional provisions for extra damages. So, you know, if there is, you know, damage to your cattle, you know, if they injure cattle, they kill cattle, cattle fall in the trench, have some damage provisions for that. What am I talking about? Well, you know, if you just run commercial cattle, then let’s, to avoid a fight with the pipeline company on what the value, you can establish the value. If it’s registered cattle, establish the value. So, things like that. You can establish the value in the easement agreement.
Require restoration. You know, in the easement agreement, most of the time, what we push for is, you know, put the surface, you know, put my land back to the same condition it was before you did what you did to the property, and, you know, dug the trench and put the pipeline in. So the restoration part of it.
Specify fencing and road repairs. You can be as specific as you want. There’s some language that we normally use on fencing that needs to be braced in a certain way, you know, barbed wire, the type of post, things like that so that they’re not putting steel posts in if you want cedar posts back in or whatnot. So, the road repairs, it can be, you know, restore the roads to the condition that they were, or add a certain amount of caliche or gravel or whatever, so many inches, or regrade the roads.
The termination of the easement. Someone here this morning mentioned about that. You know, these easements, very, very seldom will, you know, a pipeline company enter into a term easement with you. They will want, they will want a, you know, perpetual easement. However, you know, it is very common and usual to push for and ask for a termination of the easement if that pipeline is not used for a certain amount of time, you know. So if the pipeline’s not used for two years, three years, then the easement terminates.
And I put this in because oftentimes, if there’s disputes over the easement agreement, the pipeline company or, you know, the condemnor, right, will want arbitration, an arbitration provision of any disputes. I prefer not to go to arbitration. I prefer to go to the courts, and we have a very fair court system that allows for you to have a jury trial if you wish to have one. In arbitration, you’re in front of a panel of maybe one decision maker, private decision maker, or two or three or whatever the arbitration provision calls for. Nothing against arbitrators, but I, you know, if you ask me where I’d prefer to be, I’d prefer to be in front of an elected judge or a jury.
Damage calculations. You know, we’re not going to spend a lot of time on this, because this is something that could take, you know, hours, but just in general, you know, how are damages calculated? I know you all have hear about, well, you know, how much are you getting per foot, per rod, for this, for that, and those are all terms that are used in damage, I’m going to say, measures of damages or terminology of damages that are used with pipeline cases. No problem. But if your condemnation case goes, you know, to the court, how are the damage calculations or how are the damages going to be viewed and calculated? It’s going to be, they look at the, what’s the highest and best use of your land? They’re going to look, you know, judge or jury will look at what’s the value of the part taken, so the easement is taken, that’s being taken, or fee simple, whatever. And if it’s an easement, you know, let’s just say for round numbers, hey, that the highest and best use of your property is row crop.
Row crop is determined that it’s $5,000 an acre, and it’s, they’re taking one acre of your land, fee simple. So, arguably, that’s worth $5,000. If it’s an easement, then, you know, they’re not taking 100% of your one acre. They’re not taking $5,000 worth of land from you. They’re taking the easement. Maybe it represents 90%. You know, it encumbers your land a lot, so it’s 90% taking, so it would be 5,000 times 90%. That’s how they come up with the part taken. Then you have to also take into consideration the damage to the remainder of your property. What does that mean?
You know, what’s the value of the property before they take, you know, my acre, and what’s the value of the property after they take my acre? Pipeline companies very seldom, you know, we’re talking about pipeline companies today. I should just say condemnors, the state, the highway projects, you name it, they very seldom like to calculate damage to the remainder. They like to say there is no damage to the remainder. And that’s a component that needs to be calculated and figured in to come up with the total damages. So, damage to the remainder is also a huge component that needs to be or an important component that needs to be calculated.
Oh, and then I put in parentheses, and I shouldn’t, maybe, but it says additional damages for access roads and temporary easements. So you’ve all seen on these pipeline projects so they, there’s a temporary workspace, or if they’re going to bore under a road, they obviously need more area for their equipment to bore under a road. So they need additional temporary workspace. That’s something that also, you know, you should and most likely will get compensated for, is the temporary easements, and they only last for as long as the construction lasts, you know, six months after or three months after, and then the access roads. This should not be overlooked. A lot of times, a lot of focus is, well, you know, the pipelines, pipeline easement will be 50 foot wide, and, you know, we’re going to pay you, you know, we’re offering this much a rod. That’s, you know, in the initial negotiation speak.
And you know, the access road is in a paragraph that no one even really looks at. But it’s important to look at it, because, you know, an access road, you know, an easement, they’re also getting an easement for a road to get to their pipeline, and that may greatly encumber your property. That may greatly reduce the marketability and the future for commercial use or you name it. Also, that access road, many times, it’s not specified. So what does it become? It’s a blanket easement. So in other words, they can access their pipeline, you know, however they choose to over my property? Yeah, if that’s what the easement says and that’s the way it is, you know, that’s what you signed, then yes, the answer’s yes. So be careful not to allow that to stay.
So you want to specify if they are going to have an access road to their pipeline, and that’s something you’re agreeable to and negotiate the terms, make sure you specify where that road’s going to be, so. Key part. Also to just touch on it, it’s not on the slide, is, you know, if there’s going to be some damages to crops, you know, turf grass, pasture, you know, you’re not going to be able to use that pasture for one or two seasons or hay, then you want to be compensated for that as well, so.
Attorney’s fees and expert fees. I want to talk about this, because many people don’t know this, and you need to know this. And this is where, you know, I think there needs to be some legislative work in condemnation. There’s been some attempts by, you know, landowner groups, but they’ve come up against a lot of more powerful, more, I guess, deep pocketed groups of condemnors. But, you know, you don’t get, if you don’t reach an agreement with the pipeline company, and the pipeline company takes you to condemnation, then you have to fight them in court over the value of what they’re taking, the value of your land and what they’re taking and how they’re damaging your property, you don’t get to recover attorney’s fees, and you don’t get to recover your expert fees.
Well, why would you need an expert? Well, you need an expert to be able to show the value of your land, the highest and best use, the damage to your remainder. You’re going to want, you know, an expert to help you with that. As a landowner, you can testify to the value of your land and the damage to your land, but you will also want an expert to help you.
You don’t get compensated or reimbursed for that, and I think that’s unfortunate, because, you know, who has more money, the pipeline company or the landowner? Twenty states allow some type of recovery of attorney’s fees or expert fees for the landowner, and they’re not Texas; not yet, so. Something to think about, and if you hear, you know, something about it, you know, pay attention. And if there’s some support you can lend to that, that’s, you know, you decide.
But next slide is now let’s talk about, you know, how do attorney’s fees work in your case? If you choose to hire an attorney, you know, how does that work? Well, you know, you can hire a lawyer hourly or on a contingency fee basis. Most landowner condemnation attorneys charge a or work on a contingency fee basis. I handle cases both ways, hourly or contingency fee basis. The contingency fee, and I’m going to say kind of, I’m speaking to what’s the norm or what’s usual.
I’ve seen all kinds of arrangements, but normally, it’s the contingency fee of the lawyer that’s going to be earned by the lawyer, paid to the lawyer, is above the initial amount you are offered. So, if the pipeline company offered you, you know, $20,000, then, you know, anything above $20,000 that the lawyer can get for you, that’s going to be split between you and the lawyer.
Split, depends. What’s the rate? You know, anywhere from a third to I’ve seen up to 45%, you know, as the attorney’s contingency fee. So, you know, simple, simple math. Let’s say your initial offer is $20,000. The attorney’s able to get you $80,000, so that’s $60,000 more above what you were initially offered. So if you’re you’re at a one-third or 33.33%, then the attorney would get $20,000, and you would get $40,000. So, 40 plus the original 20. You’re getting $60,000 total, and the attorney’s getting $20,000, so. So, pretty simple math, but it’s important to discuss.
You know, as a landowner, you can say, well, you know, I want to negotiate that amount down. No problem. I would suggest you try to negotiate everything down, or I’m going to, you know, say let’s not make it the initial offer. Let’s make it some other number. Well, I think, I think in the end, you know, if you try to make a number higher than the initial offer, then the attorney will probably say, well, let’s do a higher percentage rate.
So, you know, it’s, at the end of the day, I think you want to do what, you know, is fair and what you both feel comfortable with. I like the contingency fee arrangement because it makes me as a, you know, landowner condemnation lawyer work harder to get you more, because then I receive more. So there’s a definitely a built-in incentive for me.
Who pays for experts? I say this because I want you to know, you know, if you do talk to a lawyer and, you know, under any contingency fee arrangement, there has to be, you know, an attorney fee agreement. And so pay attention in the attorney fee agreement to, how are they experts paid. The expert fee can come off the top. It could come out of your part of the settlement. It could come completely out of the lawyer’s part of the settlement. You just need to know what it says and what the arrangement is.
Next slide. So, this is the part where, you know, I always, it’s all good information, but, you know, at the end of the day, what do I do, what should I do? And first, if you receive that letter from a pipeline company or a call from that right of way agent, we’ve already said, you know, listen more than you talk, okay?
Document your land. You know, what is, you know, document the characteristics of your land. Know the important features of your land. Take pictures. You know, are there fences? Are there trees? Are there trees that are going to be affected by this pipeline or not? The pasture, is it improved pasture? Is it not? Cows, is that going to be an issue? Other improvements, you know. Are they running the pipeline through a barn, through a building, right next to a building that the city requires a setback, so therefore, the building’s going to have to be demolished? All things that you need to, you only know unless you know your land real well.
I know you may say, well, of course I know my land. Well, some people, you know, have quite a bit of land and lots of tracts of land, and they’re maybe not real familiar with exactly where that pipeline’s going. Also, one of the first things I do is I say, please mark where the easement’s going to go. Where is it where the pipeline’s going to go so we know. I can’t tell you the number of times where, honestly, we all thought it was going to go one place, and it actually was over a little bit. So, and it affected more trees or fencing or cattle pens or you name it. You know, the pipeline letters, plans, plats, schematics, diagrams, you know, the things that they send you, keep track of it.
I know it’s kind of a no-brainer, but sometimes, you know, we’re scrambling to try to find things that were sent, and we’re as lawyers asking them to resend it because we’ve lost things, or the client’s lost things.
Keep notes on the conversations and the comments of the right of way agents and pipeline reps. That’s just more information. And then, you know, go talk to a landowner condemnation attorney. You know, don’t want to talk to me, don’t talk to me. Talk to some other landowner condemnation attorney. But go talk to some attorney that understands condemnation, practices condemnation, so that you’re better informed.
Does that mean go hire him? Maybe, maybe not. Go talk to several and see which one you’re more comfortable with, so. So, with that, I think that wraps up everything. I appreciate your time, and I’ve tried to give you just a few things to think about. I go to a lot of legal seminars, and sometimes they bombard us with 50 or 60 things to remember, and I always think, if I can remember these two or three, hey, it’s been a successful seminar. So, I think if you can take away a couple of these key points, I think, you know, it’s been successful. So I appreciate your attention. Thank you very much. Got any questions, happy to take those questions now. If you want to ask me questions later, then call me at 800-266-4870, or email me through my contact form.
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You need an experienced property condemnation lawyer who represents landowners. Call or text 800-266-4870 for an appointment with Philip Hundl. You can also request a no-obligation case evaluation by clicking this link and submitting the form. Appointments can be in person, online or by phone. We have five offices in three counties across Southeast Texas. Our offices are in Wharton and El Campo in Wharton County, Fulshear and Richmond in Fort Bend County, and Bay City in Matagorda County. We serve clients all across Texas.