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What is the status of the PennEast Pipeline project?

With the recent confirmation of two new commissioners, a quorum has been restored in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This likely means that FERC will soon begin addressing the approval of natural gas pipeline projects, including the PennEast Pipeline.

The PennEast Pipeline project received its final environmental impact statement from FERC in April 2017.

In the next step in the approval process, FERC will decide whether to issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity under Section 7 of the federal Natural Gas Act. Once a Certificate is issued, as is probable, FERC will convey the power of eminent domain to the PennEast Pipeline project owners. PennEast will then use the power of eminent domain to take private property to construct the pipeline along a right-of-way approved by FERC.

Continue Reading Can Anything Be Done to Stop the PennEast Pipeline?

New Jersey approved a gas tax in 2016 to replenish the New Jersey Transportation Fund. The proceeds of the tax are to be used to make infrastructure improvements throughout New Jersey. In addition, the Trump administration recently announced a policy to support infrastructure projects on a national level.

Continue Reading NJ Gas Tax, Federal Infrastructure Projects, and Eminent Domain

Modification of highway access is one of the most problematic and confusing areas of the law. As a general rule, the government’s use of its “police power” enables it to regulate the state highway system. In New Jersey, the government also has the benefit of the Highway Access Management Act.

In adopting the Highway Access Management Act, the New Jersey Legislature declared: (1) “[t]he State has a public trust responsibility to manage and maintain effectively each highway within the State highway system to preserve its functional integrity and public purpose for the present and future generations” (N.J.S.A. 27:7-90c), and (2) “[t]he access rights of an owner of property abutting a State highway must be held subordinate to the public’s right and interest in a safe and efficient highway.” (N.J.S.A. 27:7-90g).

Often, the government will use these powers to change access to a property and refuse to pay just compensation or damages to the owner. If the change in access is severe but does not rise to the level of an actual taking, the property owner may be left with no recourse. This article provides a brief overview of the process for the modification of highway access.

Continue Reading Modification of Road Access: Do Not Sit on Your Rights!

What is eminent domain and who uses it?

Eminent Domain is the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. Government agencies that use eminent domain include state government agencies like the Transportation department and local agencies tied to the municipalities. “The Fifth Amendment provides that the government may only exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners.” This means if the government wants your land for public use it must buy it from you at fair market rates. Usually it tries to buy your property before going through the condemnation process.

Continue Reading Eminent Domain and Condemnation Frequently Asked Questions

Negotiating the conveyance of land rights with an experienced negotiator is often difficult and confusing at best. Terms such as temporary construction easement, slope easement, and fee simple interests are thrown around as if the public knows what they mean. Some terms also have acronyms (“TCE” for temporary construction easements or “SE” for slope easements), which further confuse matters. Below we will address some of the more frequently asked questions that we receive from property owners negotiating with pipeline companies prior to the filing of an eminent domain case.

Continue Reading Frequently Asked Questions on Negotiating Pipeline Easements

Each year select municipalities appraise all properties within their borders in order to have all tax assessments reflect the current full and fair value of each property within the taxing district. The process, known as a revaluation, is alarming to property owners since they do not know whether their taxes will increase, decrease, or stay the same.

In 2017, revaluations were completed in Trenton, New Brunswick, Milburn, and many other municipalities in New Jersey. This article will address frequently asked questions that we have received over the years.

Continue Reading FAQs on Real Estate Revaluations

In the United States, the general rule about legal fees is that each party to a lawsuit pays his or her own fees. However, like any rule, there are exceptions. In the event a contract specifically provides for the payment of legal fees, or a statute allows the recovery of legal fees, the prevailing party may apply to the court for reimbursement. There is no statute in New Jersey that allows recovery of legal fees for a successful tax appeal. The tenant may only recover the fees from a landlord if the lease expressly provides for such a recovery, or if the landlord separately agrees to pay them. As the parties learned in Crosspoint Developers v. Wegmans Food Markets, the express terms of the lease can lead to unforeseen results.

Lowes, as a tenant in a retail shopping center, filed a tax appeal and was successful in getting a reduction in the assessment. Since the appeal involved an entire retail center, all tenants received the benefit of Lowe’s efforts through a reduction in their pro rata shares of taxes.

Continue Reading Tenant’s Right to Legal Fees in a Successful Tax Appeal

Under New Jersey law, an “aggrieved taxpayer” has the right to file a real estate tax appeal in protest of a tax assessment. Tenants are eligible for this right in certain circumstances. As a general rule, a tenant under a triple net lease, one that requires the tenant to reimburse the landlord for real estate taxes, is an aggrieved taxpayer with the right to appeal.

Some leases prohibit smaller tenants from filing a tax appeal under contract law, but many leases are silent on whether a tenant must hold a threshold limit of leasable space in order to qualify. In such circumstances, the New Jersey Tax Court will generally utilize an “economic reality test” to determine not only if and when the tenant can file a tax appeal, but also who has the right to control and settle it.

Continue Reading Commercial Tenants’ Rights to File and Control Tax Appeals: Size Matters

A plain reading of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, commonly referred to as the “Taking Clause,” appears on its face to limit the government’s right to take private property only in instances where the property will be put to a public use. However, over the years, the United States Supreme Court has expanded the scope of the Taking Clause to include takings where there is a “public benefit” rather than just a use.

Continue Reading Is the PennEast Pipeline Taking Really for the Public’s Benefit?

Timothy Duggan, Esquire and Chris Florio, Esquire of Stark & Stark, as Amicus Curiae (friend of the Court), were successful in convincing the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey to reverse a bankruptcy court decision, which allowed a bankruptcy condominium owner to avoid paying a condominium lien in full under a bankruptcy plan. The Condominium Association Institute (CAI) authorized Stark & Stark to participate in the appeal since the issue in question was important to all condominium associations in New Jersey and other states.

The issue in dispute was whether a condominium lien, which is recorded and served on the owner and mortgagees, is a fully secured claim under bankruptcy law, or a partially secured claim which may be “stripped off” in a bankruptcy plan. In the case in dispute, Whispering Woods Condominium Association (“Condo Association”) filed a lien for $6,085.85 (later amended to $18,761) for unpaid association fees and assessments. Of this amount, $1,494 (six month priority) was entitled to “priority” over the existing mortgages under New Jersey law. When the owner filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, the unit was worth $170,000 and encumbered with a first mortgage in the amount of $288,063. Therefore, when the case was filed, the lien priority was:

Continue Reading NJ Federal Court Says Condo Association Lien May Have Priority in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Plan