Are You Fit to Own Your Property?

The City of Glassboro, NJ Says No

Suleiman Arifi escaped from communist Yugoslavia in the 1960s, after serving a three-year sentence in prison for opposing communism, and sought refuge in the United States. However, what he thought was the "American Dream" has turned into a nightmare.

Arifi has owned a combination commercial and residential property in downtown Glassboro since 1991, but the borough has decided that he is no longer worthy of keeping the property that he leases to a salon/spa. In March 2007, borough officials filed papers to acquire the property, which includes two apartments. Because Arifi has lived with his wife in one of those apartments for the past ten years, Glassboro would not only be taking his livelihood and major source of income, but his home as well.

"I live here and I'm making a business here," Arifi told the Gloucester County Times in July. "How can they do this to me in America?"[1]

The borough would like to see the property in the hands of Arifi's tenant Turning Heads Salon & Spa as part of "an overall redevelopment plan" for the area—though no one really knows what that plan is.

Town officials approached Arifi about leasing to the spa in 2005. There was a dispute over building improvements, but when Arifi applied for funds to improve the building's facade through a federally-funded program administered by the borough, he was denied due to other code violations the city had found.[2]

Arifi, who holds a M.A. in sociology and a Ph.D from a Turkish university, relies on the revenue from renting out the property in order to makes ends meet. He suffers from several heart conditions, including severe coronary artery disease, and doctors have said that stress, like that caused by fighting for your home, will threaten his life.  In October, Arifi was hospitalized due to his medical condition at the same time he was supposed to file official protest against the condemnation. Luckily, New Jersey Superior Court judge gave him additional time, until Nov. 18, to file papers opposing the condemnation.

Because the borough has not gone after neighboring businesses, Arifi believes the borough is going after him because a man of his age and with his poor health is easy to take advantage of or exploit.[3]

Whether or not that is true, Glassboro does not seem to have a problem threatening the life and livelihood of one of its residents. Indeed, borough officials seem to be fairly flippant about development plans in the first place.

Glassboro has three other development projects in various stages, and they have shown no signs of success. In 2000, 25 properties were taken for a townhouse project that has not moved beyond a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony. An almost decade-old plan with Rowan University that includes a hotel and conference center has seen little progress. Finally, the borough's revitalization efforts have improved one building but have lost several businesses even after the buildings that housed them received re-hab funds. [4]

As for Arifi’s property, the borough’s economic development attorney said it was inconsistent with the city’s vision of the area.

“My understanding is that, for maintaining it as a use that’s consistent with the area, the borough thought it should acquire it,” James Maley said.[5]

Usually towns try to claim a property is “underutilized,” but borough officials in Glassboro just do not think the property fits—except that officials do not want the property put to a different use. They simply want a different owner.

Even the local paper thinks the town’s reasons for the taking are absurd. In April, they opined, “Borough officials say ‘service-oriented businesses’ are slated for this part of West High Street. With a tailor’s shop, a bakery, an insurance office and a barber nearby, Arifi’s building, now occupied by Turning Heads Salon & Spa and apartments, seems to fit fine.”[6]

Meanwhile, residents of Glassboro are still trying to figure out why exactly borough officials get to determine who gets to own property in their town, and they wonder how many other property owners the borough thinks are unfit to own their own property.

[1] Stephanie Brown, “Salon joins county debate on eminent domain,” Gloucester County Times, July 8, 2007.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Matthew Ralph, “Resident steels himself for land fight,” Gloucester County Times, March 29, 2007, at A-1.

[4] Gloucester County Times, “Give reason for eminent domain,” Gloucester County Times, April 2, 2007, at A-10.

[5] Brown.

[6] Ibid.