On appeal from Division of Tax Appeals, Department of the Treasury, State of New Jersey.
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Oliphant and Burling. For reversal -- Justices Heher and Wachenfeld. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.
Appeals filed by the owners of ten apartment properties of the type commonly known as garden apartments, classified as "608's" by the building trades and in real estate circles by virtue of the construction and financing of those properties under section 608 of the National Housing Act, challenge the judgments of the Division of Tax Appeals, Department of the Treasury, State of New Jersey, to the extent said judgments fixed the valuations and (in effect) approved the assessments laid by the respondent Borough of North Bergen upon the improvements existing on appellants' lands (there being no dispute as to the land valuations), which had been reduced by the Bergen County Board of Taxation. The several appeals, 16 in number, were addressed to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, and were consolidated by order of that court entered September 16, 1951. Prior to hearing there certification was granted upon this court's own motion.
There are ten apartment owners involved in these appeals, namely: Riverview Gardens, Section One, Inc.; Riverview Gardens, Section Two, Inc.; Riverview Gardens, Section Three, Inc.; Skyline Gardens; Ridge Park, Inc., Section 1; Ridge Park, Inc., Section 2; Ridge Park, Inc., Section 3; Ridge Park, Inc., Section 4; Ridge Park, Inc., Section 5; and Canterbury-at-Arlington, Inc.
Riverview Gardens, Sections One, Two and Three, Skyline Gardens and Ridge Park, Inc., Sections 1 to 5, inclusive, appealed to the Bergen County Board of Taxation from the
original 1949 assessed valuations as fixed by the borough. The county board reduced each of the valuations. However, with regard to Riverview Gardens, Sections One and Two, and Skyline Gardens, the judgments of the county board stated that the judgments relating to these 1949 assessments were based on the judgments of the county board on the assessments for the 1947 assessment year; the six remaining judgments as to 1949 assessments and the ten judgments as to 1950 assessments of the county board, all 16 of which are the subject of these consolidated appeals, did not state any basis or reason for the reduction. The only appeals determined by the county board on the 1947 assessments were those of Riverview Gardens, Sections One and Two, and Skyline Gardens. The remaining property owners appealed for the first time as to the 1949 assessments, with the exception of Canterbury-at-Arlington, Inc., which appealed for the first time on the 1950 assessment.
Upon the entry of the nine judgments on the 1949 assessments by the county board and within the time limited, the borough filed appeals in all cases to the State Division of Tax Appeals. In the 1949 assessment cases of Riverview Gardens, Sections One and Two, and Skyline Gardens, the petitions of appeal filed by the borough, in addition to the usual allegations also alleged a change in value between the assessment years 1947 and 1949 in order to eliminate the binding effect of R.S. 54:3-26. Thereafter, and while these nine appeals were still pending, the borough fixed the assessed valuations for these nine properties and also that of the property of Canterbury-at-Arlington, Inc., for the taxable year 1950. All ten property owners then appealed to the county board from the original 1950 assessed valuations as fixed by the borough. The county board reduced these 1950 valuations of all ten properties, the judgments failing to point out the basis for the reduction. These ten appeals for the taxable year 1950 were heard and determined by the county board prior to the hearing and determination of the 1949 assessments by the Division of Tax Appeals.
Thereafter, and within the time limited, the borough appealed to the Division of Tax Appeals from the ten judgments entered by the county board for the taxable year 1950. The 1949 assessment year and 1950 assessment year appeals pending before the Division of Appeals were consolidated and all 19 appeals were heard together.
During the course of the hearing, upon stipulation of counsel and with the consent of the Division of Tax Appeals, the appeals of the borough concerning Riverview Gardens, Sections One and Two, and Skyline Gardens for the assessment year 1949, were placed in one category and considered together, solely on the question of whether or not the borough was bound for the assessment year 1949 by the county board judgments for the assessment year 1947. The Division of Tax Appeals decided that the 1947 assessments (as levied on those county board judgments) were binding and entered judgments accordingly. These three 1949 assessment cases are not included in the appeals presented to this court.
The remaining 16 cases were heard by the Division of Tax Appeals on the question whether the original assessments as fixed by the borough were in excess of true value. Upon the evidence produced before it, the Division of Tax Appeals determined that in each of the 16 cases the original assessed valuations did not exceed true value, and accordingly entered judgments reversing the county board's determinations and restoring the original assessed valuations. From these judgments the owners addressed their present appeals to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. As before noted, certification was granted upon our own motion prior to hearing there.
The first question involved relates to the construction and application of the so-called "freeze" statutes, R.S. 54:3-26, as amended by L. 1946, c. 161, and R.S. 54:2-43, as amended by L. 1946, c. 161, and their application to three of the appeals, namely, those relating to the 1950 assessments of Riverview Gardens, ...