CONDEMNATION – DO NOT SLEEP ON YOUR RIGHTS

Being aware of the rights you have relating to real property is extremely important. This is where consulting an attorney is often worthwhile. You want to be prepared for possible scenarios that could result in you losing your property, which is what happened in the following case. If the defendant had been aware of what was expected of her in this process, the verdict may have been entirely different.

To provide a bit of background, The Borough of Lindenwold, the plaintiff in this case, first recognized in 2007 that there were certain properties in the Borough which needed to be redeveloped. Ten years later in 2017, the Borough asked the Joint Land Use Board to conduct an investigation of a large area, including the Arborwood Redevelopment Area, where the property in dispute was located.

The owner of this property was sent notice of this and the hearing that would be held on April 6th of the same year. The hearing was to be on April 19th, and would involve discussions as to the property as a possible candidate redevelopment. Jackson received this mail on April 11th, and was therefore on “notice” of the hearing. Following the investigation, it was decided by the Joint Land Use Board that the Arborwood Redevelopment Area, including the property, would be designated a Condemnation Redevelopment Area. This means that the state would compensate the owner for the property, then redevelop it for public use. The State of New Jersey does have the authority to take private property with just three limitations set: (1) They must pay just compensation; (2) No person may be deprived of property without due process of law; and (3) The State may only take private property for public use.

The Borough agreed with the recommendation and sent the property owners notice of this on May 17th, 2017. The Borough offered the owner just compensation for her property in 2019, though Jackson refused the offer. She was then met with a notice of lis pendens, properly being notified that her property had a pending claim for condemnation. It was not until 2020 that the owner made any legal objections. She refused the Borough’s offer, asked it to clearly define the public purpose of the condemnation, and had a family member represent her in Court. After providing the requested written letter answering the owner’s question about the public use of the Arborwood property, they also filed a declaration for the property, which was further supported by the Court.

The owner tried to appeal this decision, but has been barred from further action for several reasons. The first and most prominent being that the owner responded to the redevelopment designation an entire three years later, when the set time to respond would have been just forty-five (45) days. Secondly, the Borough cooperated with every one of the owner’s requests and followed protocol. On the other hand, the owner did not provide sufficient evidence for her case. Her representative only made the argument that if the court decided against them, it would be the result of a bias against them, because they had filed several (failed) lawsuits against them before. The Court held the owner was procedurally barred.

If the owner had reached out to an attorney early on, she may have been more aware of her rights as a property owner and the potentially severe consequences of not timely responding after receiving notice. The rule of thumb is if you receive a legal document, whether a complaint, notice, summons, or otherwise, you should not ignore it as you may be waiving your rights by not responding in time. If you ever need the assistance of an attorney, or receive any type of legal notice, please do not hesitate to reach out to Ward, Shindle & Hall.