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In Re Acquisition of Parcels 13A and X13B, Block #742.2, Lots #3.02 and 3.03, Twsp of Piscataway

A-0906-08T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

CONDEMNATION — An award for replacement housing must take into consideration the amount of the eminent domain award attributable to the value of the house being taken to determine the fair value of the replacement housing.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) filed suit to condemn private property as part of a state highway widening project. The DOT had previously attempted to acquire the property for $358,000, which offer the owner of the property rejected. Following trial, the owner was awarded $740,000. The lower court found the property contained five lots, each being slightly more than one-half acre. The court further found that two of the lots were improved with residences, one of which the owner occupied as his dwelling that the court valued at $235,000 ($90,000 for the land and $145, 000 for the residence). The owner did not appeal this compensation award.

Prior to trial, the owner had been removed from his property following the DOT’s condemnation. He subsequently purchased a residential property for $295,000. Subsequent to the trial, the owner requested relocation assistance from the DOT, albeit out of time. The DOT waived the filing time requirement and offered the owner $62,020 as a replacement housing payment, utilizing the difference between the value of the purchased home ($295,000) and the court valuation of the residential lot taken ($235,000). The owner rejected the offer and the matter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) as a contested case. The OAL determined that the $235,000 trial award attributed to the displacement dwelling unit could only be considered when determining any replacement housing payment, and was rightfully deducted by the DOT from the purchase price of the owner’s subsequent dwelling. The OAL affirmed DOT’s calculation of relocation benefits and the recommended decision became final.

The Appellate Division affirmed, as it was satisfied the OAL’s findings were adequately based on sufficient credible evidence in the record and supported by law. The Court observed that the owner did not appeal the condemnation award, nor did it object to the DOT’s representation to the OAL of the lower court’s factual finding that the value of the replacement dwelling was $235,000. The owner had not filed exceptions to this decision. The Court found that the agency’s use of the purchased property’s price to calculate actual reasonable moving expenses of the displaced owner was reasonable, as the purchased property was considered a comparable replacement dwelling in that it offered decent, safe, and sanitary conditions that met applicable housing and occupancy codes.

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