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City of Newark of the County of Essex v. Block 2819, Lot 30 132 Clinton Avenue

A-4979-01T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

FORECLOSURE; TAX LIENS—A defense that the amount of a tax lien is too high rather than that the lien itself is invalid falls short of the invalidity defense needed to upset a tax foreclosure sale.

A property owner purchased his property from a municipality. The deed required that he commence repairs on the property’s building within six months. He claimed that he advised a representative of the municipality that he was going to demolish, rather than repair, the building. No work was done at all and nearly a year after title transferred, the municipality demolished the building. Shortly thereafter, the owner became aware of the demolition and claimed that he contacted the municipality to object to the demolition and the high cost incurred by the municipality therefor. A municipal lien was placed against the property and a tax lien sale followed, at which time the municipality purchased the lien. It then included the property in an in rem tax foreclosure complaint. The property owner filed an answer, asserting “that the city should be estopped to deny the statement to him that he did not need to worry about the demolition costs and his claim that the City had wrongfully demolished the property.” The lower court struck the answer as unresponsive and struck the separate defenses as barred by the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. The Appellate Division agreed because the property owner “never asserted that the lien was invalid or that the amounts assessed against the property ... were not in fact due.” A defense that “the amount of the lien is too high rather than that the lien itself is invalid ... falls short of the invalidity defense” needed to upset the sale. As to rejecting his claims because they were untimely under the Tort Claims Act, the property owner waited too long after the building had been demolished. With respect to his argument that the municipality should be equitably estopped, “his failure to bring suit on his claim in compliance with the time limitations imposed by the [Tort Claims] Act [was] fatal.”

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