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Bruno v. Hanna

Decided: October 17, 1960.

EMERIC BRUNO, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
JOHN HANNA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Price, Gaulkin and Sullivan. The opinion of the court was delivered by Sullivan, J.A.D.

Sullivan

This appeal involves the construction of certain restrictive covenants of record insofar as they affect ten lots of vacant land in Ridgefield, New Jersey, owned by plaintiffs and on which plaintiffs propose to erect duplex dwellings for two or more families. Defendants, who are also property owners in the area in which the covenants are effective, contend that such covenants limit the use of the lands to a one-family dwelling on each lot. The trial judge, however, while he interpreted the covenants to mean that plaintiffs may erect only residences or dwelling houses and that not more than one residence or dwelling house may be erected on any one lot, also held that:

"A residence or dwelling house erected on one lot or more than one lot may be a one-family or more than a one-family residence or dwelling house. It may be a two-family or a duplex dwelling house for two families or four families. It may be a multi-family dwelling house."

The restrictions, which were created in 1907, embrace about 67 blocks containing some 1,287 lots. Because of the large number of property owners involved, defendants, twelve in number, were joined as class representatives. Eight of them appeared at the trial to oppose plaintiffs' claims for relief, and two of them prosecute this appeal.

The restrictions are five in number but only two of them are involved in this suit. They are as follows:

"That no more than one residence or dwelling house shall be erected on any lot hereby conveyed * * *."

"That the premises hereby conveyed shall be used for dwelling purposes only * * *."

It is important to note that the first restriction deals with what may be erected on a lot, and the second deals with the use to which the premises may be put.

Plaintiffs, who are desirous of erecting duplex dwellings for two or more families on each lot, assert that such intended

erection and use does not violate the foregoing restrictions and point to numerous two-family houses, duplex units and multi-family apartments in the area affected by the restrictions. Some of these are in the immediate vicinity of plaintiffs' lands.

Defendants claim that the phrase "one residence or dwelling house" in the covenant clearly indicates an intent to restrict the use of the property to one dwelling unit on each lot; i.e. , a single family dwelling.

In making its ruling that the covenants did not restrict plaintiffs to the erection of single family houses on each lot, the trial court stated that the existence of numerous multi-family dwellings in the area "confirms the court's opinion that the interested parties have always adopted as a practical interpretation of the covenant that it does not limit the use of the lots to ...


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