City of Camden v. Jan

A-1979-98T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: November 29, 1999

CONDEMNATION; DAMAGES—When a municipality demolishes a condemned building in an emergent situation, it is only entitled to be reimbursed for the reasonable cost.

A municipality’s bureau of housing issued numerous inspection violations to a property owner indicating that its building needed interior and exterior structural repairs. Each notice informed the property owner of its right to appeal the decision, but no appeal was ever filed and no repairs were ever made. More than five years later, the building was extensively damaged by fire. As result, it was “open and not secure; structurally unsound; [in a] stage of collapse; and fire damaged.” About a month after the fire and four days after the property owner claimed that it first became aware of the fire, the property owner contracted to sell the property. The prospective buyer obtained a demolition proposal of $7,900. Several days afterwards, the municipality demolished the building on an emergency basis without notifying the property owner and presented the property owner with a bill for $33,000. The property owner did not dispute that the work was required. The lower court held that no emergency was warranted since it took the municipality 2 1/2 months after the fire to demolish the building. It awarded the municipality $7,900 in damages as the fair value of the work that was done. The Appellate Division agreed with the result, but not the reasoning. It found that a 2 1/2 month delay did not itself mean that there was no emergency. Further, even if the property owner was entitled to notice of the demolition, it waived any right to notice by its prior inaction. Nonetheless, the Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment of $7,900, based on the evidence presented at trial that this was the reasonable cost of demolition.