by Anthony F. Della Pelle / New Jersey Condemnation Law
A New Jersey appellate court recently rejected a commercial tenant’s claims for relocation benefits and assistance arising out of a displacement caused by a redevelopment project in Wrightstown Borough, near the Fort Dix military establishment. The claimant, Andrew Rosen, was the owner of Wright Cleaners, which had been operated at the same location since 1969. He leased the property and, at the time of the events in this case, was a holdover tenant with a month to month lease.
The Borough adopted its redevelopment plan in 1999. That plan provided that the Borough Council would serve as the redevelopment agency and the Council would retain a private firm to provide relocation assistance to the displaced parties. In 2003, the Borough first notified Rosen that he would be displaced and was entitled to Relocation assistance, and provided him with information including that of the Borough’s redevelopment consultant. Thereafter, the consultant undertook repeated efforts to assist Rosen in finding a replacement location, but Rosen never deemed any of these alternate locations suitable. In 2007, Rosen’s landlord sold the premises to the Borough and terminated Rosen’s tenancy. Shortly prior to the expiration of the tenancy, the Borough inspected the leased premises and found it to be dilapidated and unsafe, in danger of imminent collapse, and therefore ordered that the property be vacated, which it was, and boarded up. Rosen did not remove his machinery, equipment or the dry cleaning inventory, but demanded approximately $250,000 for the installation of new replacement equipment. The Borough’s appraiser estimated that the value of such equipment was less than $5,000, and would have cost approximately $4,000 to move. 10 months later, the premises was demolished, with all of Rosen’s personal property inside.
Rosen thereafter challenged the Borough’s redevelopment plan’s validity in Superior Court, Law Division, but this challenge was denied and his relocation claims were transferred to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). There, the administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that while Rosen was entitled to relocation benefits as a displaced person, no benefits were due because he never relocated his business. In particular, the ALJ determined that Rosen’s refusal to consider certain replacement locations was unreasonable because his existing location was inferior in quality to the possible replacements. The ALJ also noted that Rosen still had a right to make a claim because a displaced person is entitled to apply for relocation assistance within 12 months of permanent “resettlement”, which had not yet occurred. The decision of the ALJ was appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, but the appellate panel affirmed the ALJ’s decision, noting that the decision below was supported by sufficient evidence in the record.
A copy of the Appellate Division’s opinion in 230-232 Fort Dix Street v. Borough of Wrightstown is available here.
Originally published by New Jersey Condemnation Law on Oct. 15, 2013; republished with permission
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