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318-322 Glenwood Avenue v. Township of Bloomfield

A-3169-08T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

CONDEMNATION; RELOCATION ASSISTANCE — Even though a property owner who receives notice of a governmental agency’s redevelopment plans can be eligible for relocation assistance, it will not receive that assistance unless the governing agency actually acquires the owner’s property or the owner receives an order to vacate the property.

A multi-tenanted commercial building was within an area designated for redevelopment. The owner operated her business in a portion of the property. She also leased space elsewhere, but did not relocate her business at that time. She then received a “notice of eligibility for relocation assistance,” formally notifying her of the redevelopment plans but informing her that she was not required to vacate the premises at that time. It also notified her that she “may be eligible for relocation benefits.” Thereafter, the owner and the municipality exchanged several letters discussing a sale of the building to the municipality. The owner rejected the municipality’s offers, sold the building to a third-party, and relocated to another space. She then sought to be reimbursed for her relocation costs. When the municipality rejected the owner’s request for reimbursement, she sued.

The lower court held that even though the owner became eligible for relocation assistance once the municipality notified her that redevelopment would displace her business, she lost that eligibility when she sold the property. It ruled that continued eligibility for assistance requires: (a) the actual acquisition of the real property by the municipality; or (b) an order to vacate from the municipality. Neither happened here. It also held that the notice from the municipality saying the property was eligible for relocation assistance actually did not promise the property owner that she would receive relocation benefits. Without any misrepresentation that she would receive benefits, the Court found the owner unreasonably relied on the eligibility statement, given that she had not been approved to receive benefits. The owner appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed, finding that there was no basis to disturb the lower court’s decision. It held that only displaced persons were entitled to compensation for relocation expenses. The definition of “displaced person” includes a requirement that the displacement be caused by the government’s acquisition of the property or that a government order to vacate resulted in the displacement. The Court pointed out that the applicable regulations likewise tied the entitlement to compensation. Here, it believed the giving of notice did not automatically entitle the owner to relocation benefits unless she was actually a displaced person. Thus, since she moved out without waiting for an order to vacate, she was not a “displaced person” and was not entitled to business relocation benefits.

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