The Texas Property Owner Rule
By Hon. Craig Estlinbaum
exas judges and jurors are often called upon to resolve disputes regarding property value.
These disputes may arise in many case types, including divorce, probate, property tax
and some civil cases. Generally, when property value becomes issue in a case, parties
are required to present valuation testimony through an expert witness. An exception to
this requirement is known as the Property Owner Rule.
The Property Owner Rule provides that a property owner
is qualified to testify about his property’s
value even though he would not be qualified to testify about the value of similar property owned
by someone else.
Property Owner Rule testimony falls under Rule 701.
This evidentiary rule
allows lay witnesses to provide opinion testimony when that testimony is “rationally based on the
perceptions of the witnesses,” and is “helpful to a clear understanding of the witnesses’ testimony
or the determination of a fact in issue.”
The Property Owner Rule rests upon the assumption that
a property owner is familiar with his property and its value even though he may not be familiar with
property values generally.
The owner’s valuation testimony serves the same function at trial as
Rule 702 expert testimony.
The Property Owner Rule provides a cost advantage for the landowner litigant when value is an
issue. Utilizing the rule, a property owner can testify to market value while a non-owner in the same
litigation usually must hire or otherwise secure valuation testimony from a qualified Rule 702 expert.
The rule, therefore, offers parties an opportunity to save litigation costs even though some expertise
and objectivity may be lost.
A recent Supreme Court of Texas case,
Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America v. Justiss
the relationship between the Property Owner Rule and the requirements for Rule 702 opinion
testimony by experts generally. This case reveals that presenting valuation testimony through the
property owner may not be as simple a proposition as it may first appear. The case holds that a
property owner’s valuation testimony must meet the same reliability requirements that apply to
expert witnesses generally.
and the Market
To understand how
affects the Property Owner
Rule, it is necessary to first
understand the rule as it
existed prior to that decision.
The first Supreme Court of
Texas case to examine the
Property Owner Rule in the
post-war era was
a suit for trespass
damages to land. The
property owner plaintiff, Craig,
testified about the affected
property’s value. Craig limited
his testimony to the property’s
to him and his
rests upon the
a property owner
is familiar with
his property and