What recourse, if any, does a property owner have when the government relocates a tenant to a new property in anticipation of acquiring the first property by eminent domain, but subsequently decides not to take the property? The answer depends on the length and terms of the lease.
The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey recently affirmed a trial court’s decision finding that the property owner was without recourse when its tenant was relocated and the New Jersey School Construction Corporation (“NJSCC”) decided not to acquire the property. R.A.R. Development v. Associates v. New Jersey Schools Constr. Corp., 2008 WL 2663403 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2009). In this particular case, NJSCC targeted a property for acquisition in order to build a new school. After making an offer to acquire the property but before filing a condemnation complaint, NJSCC agreed to relocate a commercial tenant located at the property in question. Since the relocation was going to take more than one year at a cost of approximately $5 million, NJSCC did not want to wait for the condemnation complaint to be filed before starting the relocation process. When the move was almost complete, NJSCC decided not to acquire the property. The property owner was extremely upset since it lost a tenant occupying over 100,000 square feet of space.
The property owner filed a lawsuit against the NJSCC alleging several causes of action, including tortuous interference with contractual and economic advantage, estoppel and inverse condemnation. In terms of the tortuous interference claims, the court found that the NJSCC acted in good faith and pursuant to its statutory rights since New Jersey law permits the relocation of tenants prior to acquiring property by eminent domain (subject to certain requirements). In terms of the estoppel argument, the court found that the property owner did not rely to its detriment on any representations of the NJSCC concerning the relocation of its tenants. Finally, the court dismissed the inverse condemnation claim finding that the lease was at the end of its term (1 month remaining at the time the tenant completed its move) and the tenant had paid all rent due through the term of the lease. In rejecting the property owner’s agreement that it was entitled to compensation for the taking of its renewal option, the court held that a “landlord’s expectation that the tenant will exercise the right of renewal does not confer on the landlord a recognized property interest subject to just compensation for its taking.”
The property owner in this case was harmed, but without recourse. When negotiating with a condemning authority, one must keep in mind that New jersey law allows a condemning authority to change its mind at various stages of the process with little regard for the property owner’s rights.