Condemning Authority Not Required To Negotiate With Mortgagee

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

 In a recent opinion, Borough of Merchantville v. Malik & Son, LLC, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that a condemning municipality was not required to negotiate with a party that had obtained a final judgment of foreclosure on the property that the municipality was looking to condemn.  Under New Jersey law, before condemning real property, a condemning authority must, among other things, engage in bona fide pre-litigation negotiations with the party that "owns title of record to the property."  Prior case law had made clear that this limitation meant that a condemning authority was not required to negotiate with a leaseholder or some other party that might have an "interest" in the property, but was instead required to negotiate only with the record title owner. 

In Malik & Son, a lienholder argued that, by virtue of it having obtained final judgment of foreclosure on the property, it stepped into the shoes of the record title holder, and the municipality should have been negotiating with it instead of the record title holder.  Specifically, the lienholder argued that it was not like a leasholder or even a "mere mortgage holder," but was instead the true "stakeholder and only party with a genuine interest in negotiating the sale of the property" because it had possession of the property, the right to sell it, a final judgment of foreclosure, and had scheduled a sheriff's sale by the date of the taking .  Relying on the plain language of the relevant statutes, the trial court rejected this argument, and the Appllate Division affirmed its decision.  The Appellate Division further explained that the municipality did not preclude the record title holder from discussing the negotiations with the lien holder, and that the lienholder — as a "condemnee with a compensable interest," albeit not the record title holder — could participate in subsequent valuation and allocation eminent domain proceedings. 

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