Faith-based congregations might set aside donations from church members and local businesses for many months to save enough money to purchase real property. It may even take years to move into a church-owned space. Having a facility owned by the church opens up many options for ministry and the expansion of the congregation. The idea that all of those donations and sacrifices might go to waste is disheartening, but sometimes churches are at risk of losing their real property with minimal forewarning.
Eminent domain claims are one of the few scenarios in which a property owner will end up compelled to sell land they would otherwise prefer to retain. Eminent domain claims usually lead to a purchase offer. If a homeowner does not agree to sell the property, then they may very likely end up in court for formal condemnation proceedings. Churches are subject to special rules as faith-based organizations. Does the status of a church property protect it from condemnation?
A church’s land is still subject to eminent domain claims
A case out of Fort Worth has helped clarify that although churches may benefit from special property use rules, there are no inherent protections precluding condemnation of property used for religious purposes. Public projects may necessitate the sale of part or all of a property that belongs to a church.
Recently, the North Fort Worth Baptist Church lost a multi-year effort to prevent the condemnation and sale of its lands. The city will be able to move forward with a claim to purchase 0.1411 acres of the church’s land after a court ruled in favor of municipal authorities. The church tried to prevent the sale by pointing out how the sale and project would likely adversely affect their operations.
Every church at risk of losing some or all of its property to eminent domain claims brought by the state or local authorities has the right to request a trial and to fight the claim brought against the property. Still, there are no special provisions protecting churches from the loss of land or even developed areas to eminent domain claims. Therefore, churches that are near major thoroughfares and large development projects may want to learn more about what protections they have under state law.
Fighting condemnation in court or seeking the maximum amount of compensation for property loss are both options for churches impacted by eminent domain claims.