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Monmouth Junction Mobile Home Park Inc. v. South Brunswick Township

Decided: August 21, 1969.

MONMOUTH JUNCTION MOBILE HOME PARK, INC., T/A MONMOUTH MOBILE HOME PARK, AND J.R.T. VILLAGE CO., INC., T/A BROOKSIDE TRAILER COURT AND GEORGE BRODSKY, FRANK BANNON, AND MURRAY NECKMAN, T/A OAKDALE MOBILE HOME VILLAGE, A PARTNERSHIP, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SOUTH BRUNSWICK TOWNSHIP, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Gaulkin, Collester and Labrecque. The opinion of the court was delivered by Collester, J.A.D.

Collester

This is an appeal by plaintiffs, the owners of three mobile home parks located in South Brunswick Township, from a judgment of the Law Division upholding the validity of an ordinance adopted by defendant revising an ordinance which licensed and regulated mobile home parks.

Prior to the adoption of the amended ordinance the annual license fee for a mobile home park was $100. In addition thereto the township received personal property taxes assessed against the individual owners of the mobile homes. Effective January 1, 1968 the personal property tax was eliminated by an act of the Legislature. When plaintiffs submitted their $100 payments for the license period beginning September 1, 1967 the township did not issue the licenses.

The amendment was adopted on March 20, 1968. It increased the license fee to $500 for each park having up to 50 mobile home spaces, plus $5 for each space in excess thereof,

and required payment of an additional monthly fee based on the size of the mobile home spaces. It provided, among other things, that mobile homes should be parked on each space so that there would be at least 15 feet side-to-side spacing and 10 feet end-to-end spacing between them; that a mobile home should be at least 20 feet from an adjoining property line, 25 feet from a public street, and 15 feet from any building or structure. It required operators of existing mobile home parks to obtain a license within 30 days and provided that if a park was in violation of any of the regulations a special license rather than a regular license would be issued listing the violation thereon; that the violations should be corrected prior to January 1 of the succeeding year, and if they were not, a special license would be issued for the following year, but no new tenants or mobile homes would be allowed to occupy any space until such time as all violations were corrected. At the expiration of the second renewal of the special license the township committee was empowered to revoke or refuse to issue a license or to order any restrictions deemed appropriate, following notice to the licensee and a hearing. The ordinance also required the park owners to keep a register containing the names of its tenants or mobile home owners, the number of mobile home spaces occupied, and to deliver a copy thereof to the township clerk quarter-annually.

Plaintiffs brought an action in lieu of prerogative writs challenging the validity of the ordinance on grounds that (1) the fees charged constituted double taxation of real property and were arbitrary and excessive; (2) it unlawfully revoked prior licenses; (3) it failed to provide for a proper hearing on alleged violations; (4) it was unlawfully retrospective and resulted in the confiscation of their property; (5) it invalidly attempted to repeal an existing zoning ordinance, and (6) it violated the provisions of N.J.S.A. 40:52-2. The trial court held that the ordinance was valid and entered judgment in favor of defendant township. This appeal followed.

Plaintiffs first claim that section 7(b)(4) and section 8 (incorporating by reference the provisions of chapter IX of the State Sanitary Code relating to mobile home parks), which established spacing requirements for mobile home parks, were invalid because they conflicted with a revision of the State Code that became effective after the judgment was entered in this case, and that the revision was controlling. We do not agree. When the ordinance was adopted on March 20, 1968 the spacing requirements provided for in section 7(b)(4) and the State Code were substantially the same. When the State Code was revised, effective September 1, 1968, a "grandfather clause" relaxed the spacing requirements for existing mobile home parks and provided that they would apply only to parks constructed after the date of the revision. However, the enabling act under which the State Code was adopted, N.J.S.A. 26:1 A -9, authorized local boards of health to adopt more restrictive regulations than those set forth in the State Code so long as they were not in conflict therewith. While the ordinance here challenged was not adopted by the local board of health, the South Brunswick township governing body had the power to adopt regulations for mobile home parks. N.J.S.A. 40:52-1(d), and see Zullo v. Board of Health of Woodbridge Township , 9 N.J. 431 (1952). The spacing requirements set forth in the ordinance are more restrictive and were in effect before the State Code was revised. We see no conflict with the State Code which would invalidate the spacing regulations.

The park owners allege that the spacing requirements of the ordinance will reduce the number of mobile home spaces in their parks, resulting in a pecuniary loss. They argue that this provision of the ordinance is unconstitutionally retrospective because it deprives them of vested rights. We are satisfied that plaintiffs acquired no vested rights to continue the operation of their parks without compliance with the spacing requirements. Under N.J.S.A. 40:52-1 the business of operating mobile home parks is subject to regulation under the police power of the municipality,

and ordinances adopted pursuant to such powers are valid even though they curtail or restrict the use of private property. Gilman v. Newark , 73 N.J. Super. 562, 599-600 (Law Div. 1962). Plaintiffs acquired no immunity from the exercise of the police power because prior to the adoption of the ordinance their parks may have been in conformity with the then applicable ordinance. Ibid. We hold that the ordinance is not unconstitutionally retrospective.

Plaintiffs argue that the township improperly revoked their licenses by the adoption of the amended ordinance. The evidence shows that the $100 fees called for by the preexisting ordinance were paid by plaintiffs prior to September 1, 1967. However, the township never issued the licenses due to the existence of health and safety violations in the parks as well as because it was conducting a study of proposed changes in the ordinance. Defendant held the money in escrow pending the outcome of the trial below. The trial court ordered that the money paid be credited against the license fees called for by the amended ordinance. We ...


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