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Larson v. Mayor and Council of Borough of Spring Lake Heights

Decided: February 19, 1968.

JEROME M. LARSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL OF THE BOROUGH OF SPRING LAKE HEIGHTS, NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT. HERBERT HARKER, MARY HARKER, HELEN E. HARKER AND MERCER COURT, INC., A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, PLAINTIFFS, V. THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL OF THE BOROUGH OF SPRING LAKE HEIGHTS, NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT. KIRSCH HOLDING COMPANY, A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF, V. THE BOROUGH OF MANASQUAN, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT



Simmill, J.s.c.

Simmill

Three actions in lieu of prerogative writs were consolidated for trial. The basic issue involved in all is the validity of ordinances expressly enacted pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:48-1(6) and 40:48-2, which ordinances, in essence, prohibit in defendant-municipalities the use, occupancy or rental of dwellings by and to "non-family" groups as defined in the ordinances. More simply put, the ordinances prohibit "group rentals."

The two ordinances in question, one of the Borough of Spring Lake Heights and the other of the Borough of Manasquan, are essentially the same, the only substantive difference being that the Spring Lake Heights ordinance applies throughout the municipality while the Manasquan regulation is limited to residential zones. What the ordinances do is to prohibit unrelated persons from occupying the same dwelling unit within the municipality (or, in the case of Manasquan, within a residential zone). While much has been made by plaintiffs of arguable problems of definition in the language of the ordinances, the language, purpose and effect of them is not unclear. The issue this court must decide is whether such ordinances, enacted pursuant to the general police power granted to municipalities and which prohibit unrelated persons from living together in the borough (or, in the case of Manasquan, in the residential zones of the borough) are valid. It ought to be stressed that the subject ordinances are not zoning regulations enacted pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55-30 et seq.

As mentioned, the two ordinances under attack are essentially identical and reference will be made to them individually only where such differentiation is relevant. Otherwise, the court feels that on the merits the question of validity is unaffected by whatever differences may exist. Finally, it has

been stipulated by counsel that procedurally, the ordinances were validly adopted as general police power ordinances, while their passage as zoning regulations was not regular.

The ordinances in question were adopted by the municipalities to meet a particular problem that has developed in recent years. To a large extent the problem derives from the geographic location of defendant municipalities, and in fact is inherent to some degree in the resort characteristic of the area. Although related to seasonal population increases generally, the evidence clearly shows that a particular segment of this population influx is primarily responsible for the problems sought to be dealt with. To understand the nature of the problems, a brief sketch of the social and economic development of the area is appropriate.

Defendant municipalities are located on or near the Atlantic coast, in an area whose economy is predicated largely on seasonal revenues. During the summer months there is a great population increase; in fact, the police chief of Manasquan testified that in his municipality the increase in the summer is as much as six times the yearly population. The situation in Spring Lake Heights is somewhat different, since that borough is not itself a beach-front community, but rather borders on several such municipalities. Notwithstanding this, however, Spring Lake Heights is an integral part of the seashore area, and does experience a population increase in the summer months.

In years past, prior to the universal advent of the automobile and the construction of the Garden State Parkway and other modern roads, the seasonal population was made up largely of families who rented cottages or rooms for the summer. A great number of cottages and other type dwellings were built to accommodate these seasonal rentals. Times changed, however, and the seasonal rentals became monthly and then weekly; the automobile and improved roads made it convenient for families to come down at their pleasure, and full seasonal rentals diminished. At the same time, the owners and landlords discovered that by renting these cottages to

groups of young men or young women, they would receive a higher rental, since the cost to the lessees was distributed among them; four individuals could afford collectively more than one family. Furthermore, these groups were willing to rent for the entire season, eliminating the need for finding successive tenants for the same dwelling unit for one season. All in all, rental to groups proved to be far more lucrative and easier to obtain than rental to families, and in recent years the number of group rentals has increased significantly.

But despite the economic advantage to the property owners, group rentals created and contributed to problems which adversely affected the municipalities involved. Noise, acts of immorality, public drunkenness, lewd conduct, traffic and parking congestion were some of the problems related in whole or in part to group rentals. The testimony and exhibits presented clearly support defendants' position that group rentals contribute more than their share to the problems mentioned above. In Manasquan, for example, for the summer months during 1965, 1966 and 1967, the police reports show 121 noise and related complaints. Of these, at least 65, or 54%, involved premises rented to groups. That is, more than half of the complaints were related to group rentals constituting a minor proportion of the population as a whole. Furthermore the testimony showed that actual complaints to the police, reflected in the police records, were made in considerably less than all cases where such complaints were appropriate; and again, for the majority of the time the source of the incidents was group rentals.

The most prevalent complaint concerning the groups was noise. This, above all, was the major source of irritation. The other complaints dealt with parking and traffic congestion, obscene language and lewd conduct, including fornicating in cars on the public streets. Incidents of immoral conduct and illicit relations inside the dwellings were also related by the witnesses.

To remedy or eliminate these problems, which the public officials felt were due largely to the absence of parental or

other supervision and control within the premises, the subject ordinances were enacted.

The Spring Lake Heights ordinance, which, as mentioned, is substantively identical to the Manasquan ordinance, provides in ...


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