Safe at Home: Atlantic City’s Piano Man Wins Eminent Domain Fight Once and for All

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 29, 2019

ARLINGTON, VA—The Institute for Justice is pleased to announce that Atlantic City property owner and longtime piano tuner Charlie Birnbaum can declare victory once and for all after his years-long battle to save his beloved longtime family home from eminent domain abuse. The home had been targeted by New Jersey’s Casino Reinvestment and Development Authority (CRDA), which sought to take and bulldoze it even though the Authority literally had no plan for what would do with the land.

CRDA’s 30-day deadline to appeal its loss before the New Jersey Appellate Division expired in March, thus ending Birnbaum’s five-year-long legal battle with a victory for homeowner David against the government Goliath.

“It is an amazing accomplishment that our home still stands even after this assault by the very government entrusted to defend our rights—including our property rights,” Birnbaum said. “This home represents a beacon of hope for people throughout New Jersey and across the country that the impossible can happen, that we can win despite the odds being against us. It should inspire us all to keep the faith no matter how dark the prospects for success might seem.”

Birnbaum inherited the home from his parents, Abe and Dora Birnbaum, both of whom were Holocaust survivors who met in the forest of Poland as members of the resistance. Each lost their spouses and the rest of their families to the Nazis. Charlie explained that his parents moved to America to find a better life where, among other dreams, they hoped to live safe and secure in a home that the government could not arbitrarily take from them, as had happened during the war. Charlie maintains the property as a tribute to his mother and father.

The New Jersey appeals court pointed out in its ruling that CRDA was acting as little more than a land speculator, taking other people’s property by force and then holding onto that land in hopes of someday putting it to some unspecified use.

“This condemnation was an unjustified and unjustifiable land grab from the outset,” said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice (IJ), which is defending the Birnbaums in the case alongside New Jersey eminent domain firm Potter & Dickson. “Fortunately for Charlie, the law, the courts, and the Institute for Justice stood between CRDA and the home his parents left him.”

“New Jersey courts rejected CRDA’s land grab because the agency refused to explain why it wanted Charlie’s longtime family home,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban, who also defended Birnbaum in court. “The government cannot just say it wants to take a home, knock it down, and then think really hard about what it might put there instead.”

“We are thrilled that Charlie will keep the home that means so much to him and his family,” said IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock. “The Institute for Justice will not rest until every home in America is safe from eminent domain abuse.”

Charlie, who tuned pianos for all the legends who performed in Atlantic City—and who Frank Sinatra insisted be the only piano tuner for his pianist—tells his story in the following video, in which he also plays the piano:

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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, IJ’s vice president for communications, at (703) 682-9320 ext. 205. More information is available at]