“Inverse Condemnation” and “Eminent Domain”: Two Key Terms Houston Controlled Flooding Victims Must Know

Do You Have Grounds For an Inverse Condemnation Lawsuit?

Flooding Events Surrounding the Addicks/Barker Reservoirs and Lake Conroe

Hurricane Harvey left plenty of devastation in its wake, however some Houston residents are questioning actions by city officials which left their previously un-flooded homes filled with muddy flood waters. More specifically, as Hurricane Harvey raged, two government agencies issued late-night news releases which contained important messages—for anyone who happened to be awake to read them.  At 1:30 a.m. on Monday, August 28th, the San Jacinto River Authority’s headlines read: “New record release and water level for Lake Conroe.” The Harris County Flood Control District’s news release, posted almost 24 hours later, had equally alarming headlines: “Controlled releases on Addicks and Barker Reservoir increase flooding threat along Buffalo Bayou.”

What these news releases essentially said was that officials would be releasing high volumes of reservoir water, sending that water rushing toward downstream homes and businesses. While these actions were deemed necessary by those in charge, these two decisions soon resulted in lawsuits from home and business owners in the areas affected, as well as criticism from public officials who represent those areas. Tragically, the Addicks/Barker reservoir release flooded homes in Houston’s Memorial area, where two elderly residents were later found drowned inside their homes. The Lake Conroe release affected Kingwood residents as well as certain other northeast Harris County Communities.

Inverse Condemnation vs. Eminent Domain

While most people are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of eminent domain, fewer are familiar with inverse condemnation. Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to force the sale or take private property for public use. In an eminent domain situation, the government is required to pay “just compensation” for the property, although the term “just” can be fairly subjective. While eminent domain is government-initiated, inverse condemnation is initiated by a property owner after the government “takes” an owner’s property without following the legalities of eminent domain procedures.

Most typically, this would occur when there is a land-use dispute, and the owner of the property challenges development restrictions. Less often, a “taking” can result from damage or a diminishment in value of private property directly resulting from government conduct. Even if the “taking” or the property damage is temporary—such as the Houston controlled flooding—property owners are legally entitled to file an inverse condemnation lawsuit. In other words, if the government intentionally floods your property, you do have legal recourse through filing a Houston Flood Lawsuit. 

Houston Flood Lawsuits

The Addicks and Barker Reservoirs are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, while Lake Conroe is managed by the San Jacinto River Authority. It is estimated that at least 4,000 homes in Kingwood flooded as a result of the controlled release of water. It has been reported that home buyers in these flood areas were given minimal notice regarding the potential for flooding—only fine-print warnings in subdivision plots for most. Generally, buyers are not advised of the flooding risks in order to expedite real estate transactions—selling houses rather than protecting homeowners. A number of Houston flood lawsuits have already been filed, claiming inverse condemnation, and it is expected that many more will follow.

How a Houston Inverse Condemnation Attorney Can Help

If you are a victim of “controlled” flooding in the Houston area, it could be extremely beneficial for you to speak to a Houston inverse condemnation attorney. If you choose to file a Houston flood lawsuit, claiming inverse condemnation, a Houston flood lawyer can help guide you through the process, ensuring your rights are fully protected, and providing you with the information you need. 

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Author: Andrew Sullo
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Andrew Sullo

Andrew SulloAndrew Sullo

Andrew Sullo is a National Trial Lawyer's Top 100 Selection for 2013-2018. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice.

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