Mortgagee Not Entitled To Bona Fide Negotiations

by Joseph Grather / New Jersey Condemnation Law

On February 5, the Appellate Division published its decision in a condemnation case captioned Borough of Merchantville v. Malik & Son, LLC (full text here).  The property was acquired by the municipality in connection with an earlier “in need of redevelopment” designation.  In short, the Appellate Court affirmed a trial court’s rejection of a “right to take” challenge based on an alleged failure to engage in bona fide negotiations.  The court also held that a condemnor had no duty to engage in bona fide negotiations with the “assignee of a mortgagee.”

Regarding the mortgagee’s assignee, the appellate court published its decision despite its comment that the trial court’s decision was based on “established principles” of case-law and the language of the act.  Section 6 requires a condemnor to negotiate with the person or entity “holding the title of record to the property being condemned.”  The trial court’s decision was therefore consistent with the express terms of the statute as interpreted by existing cases. City of Atlantic City v. Cynwyd Investments, 148 N.J. 55 (1997); and Town of Kearney v. Discount City, 205 N.J. 386 (2011).   Again, even though the case was published, it would appear that the holding is based on a clear reading of the statute and existing case-law.

Regarding the appellate court’s affirmance on the bona fide negotiations claim – it too was based on existing case-law.  The property owner rejected the offer in writing but failed to include any substantive basis or facts that would require the condemnor to reconsider the bona fides of its offer.  For instance, the property owner did not tell the condemnor about the two prior offers to purchase ($1,850,000 and $1,250,000), or the amount of the existing liens on the property.  Simply stated, a mere rejection of the offer without more cannot form the basis of a later bona fide negotiations defense.

Originally published by New Jersey Condemnation Law; republished with permission

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