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Editorial: County should not put its mistake on land buyer

Buyer beware. Especially when dealing with Bernalillo County, or you might lose your shirt.

That’s what real estate investor James Nelson says has happened in a botched land purchase with the aforesaid local government two years ago. Now the county wants the land back – even though it’s undisputed the county failed to follow through and get State Board of Finance approval of the sale.

According to a breach of contract lawsuit Nelson filed against the county last month, in February 2017 the county agreed to sell Nelson a 5,860-square-foot property for $163,500, an amount the county has admitted was under appraised value. Nelson alleges in his suit the county used an after-the-fact appraisal to try to get him to either pay $35,000 to “consummate the sale” or show he’d made improvements worth that much. And that sure sounds like the county trying to rectify one of its errors by getting Nelson to bring the price up to appraised value.

Nelson says when the sale occurred, the county also did not disclose restrictive covenants required it only to be used to house homeless people with substance abuse addictions or mental illness – something surrounding neighbors have vehemently rejected. The county denies the covenants weren’t disclosed; the purchase agreement doesn’t mention them.

In what appears to be the height of hypocrisy, the county is countersuing and asking a judge to rescind the deal and make Nelson pay its legal costs. You can bet if a taxpayer had failed to follow the rules, the county wouldn’t be so forgiving.

Nelson, who makes his living flipping properties, says his inability to sell the site has cost him dearly, up to and including having to sell his own home. He is seeking damages.

While the county says its failure to get state approval was inadvertent, that doesn’t justify reneging on a deal and expecting someone else to foot the bill for your errors. It’s unconscionable the county would try to make the other party pay for its mistake. It should drop its counterclaim and put forth a good-faith effort to rectify this two-year-old debacle of a land deal.

In the interim, buyer beware.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.