Since the decision by the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London many states across the country have taken measures to help protect the rights of private ownership. The controversial Kelo decision held that a local government can take the private property of one person and give it to another private entity. While the Court’s ruling was seen by many as a serious blow to citizen’s constitutionally protected rights of private property ownership, the decision prompted a number of states to initiate legislative reform to help curb eminent domain abuse.
The Castle Coalition has released a report, grading each of the states based on their efforts to protect private property owners and their rights based on changes in their respective state laws. The Castle Coalition is the Institute for Justice’s nationwide grassroots property rights activism project that teaches home and small business owners how to protect themselves and stand up to abuse by governments and developers who seek to use eminent domain to take private property for their own gain. Stated below is the letter grade, as given by the Castle Coalition, along with a description of the changes that have occurred since Kelo v. City of New London.
The state of New Jersey receives the lowest letter grade because no legislative reform has taken place since Kelo v. City of New London. Bills have been introduced that would have reformed the definition of “blight”; however they ceased to pass.
Because the state of New Jersey ceased to pass any sort of legislative reform that truly helps uphold the right of property owners, it receives the lowest letter grade possible.
Spring Lake Heights Borough Council recently voted 5-1 to overturn Mayor Frances Enright’s veto of two ordinances meant to close loopholes in state pay to play and eminent domain laws. The two measures were originally approved on October 25th 2010 and sought to ban pay to play for contracts given to redevelopment within the borough, and to prohibit the borough from seizing private property for the purpose of privately funded economic development. Mayor Enright chose not to sign these ordinances because he deemed them “unnecessary”. Currently, eminent domain is not an issue in this area, but this legislation will provide security for property owners should eminent domain become an issue.
On October 7th, 2010, the New Jersey Senate’s Community and Urban Affairs Committee Approved S-1451, which aimed to amend the following statutes to provide additional protection to property owners undergoing eminent domain.
1. “Local Redevelopment and Housing Law”, P.L.1992, c.79 (C.40A:12A-1 et al.)
2. “Eminent Domain Act of 1971,” P.L.1971, c.361 (C.20:3-1 et seq.)
3. “Relocation Assistance Act,” P.L.1971, c. 362 (C.20:4-1 et seq.).
The bill never passed the Senate and was re-introduced in the 2012 session under S-119 and referred to the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. No action is currently scheduled.
S-2447 was introduced in early 2013 and cleared the State Senate Committee. This bill shares some of the same provisions that were introduced in S-1451, which failed to pass. S-2447 seeks to codify several New Jersey Supreme Court decisions, such as Gallenthin Realty Development Inc. v. Paulsboro, 191 N.J. 344 (2007) in which the Court held that a blight determination requires a finding of a “deterioration or stagnation that has a decadent effect on surrounding property,” which could not ordinarily be applied to a large tract of vacant land.