The issue in this case is whether "garage space" and "parking space," used by tenants occupying apartments in the same building-parking complex, are subject to rent control under the Fort Lee Rent Control Ordinance.
Plaintiff Central Towers Company, t/a Northbridge Park (hereinafter Central Towers), is a limited partnership under the laws of New Jersey and, as such, is the owner and operator of a high-rise apartment building with 280 apartments and a total of approximately 400 indoor and outdoor garage/parking spaces. Under normal circumstances the apartment lease and the garage/parking space license/rental, although under a separate lease and apart from the rental of a residential apartment, begin and terminate on the same date.
The apartment lease does not automatically carry with it a space for an automobile, but if requested by a tenant and if available, the garage/parking space will be made available to the apartment tenant.
Plaintiff Le Cross Associates is also a limited partnership organized under the laws of New Jersey, and operates a high-rise apartment under a 99-year lease with options and also a commercial business adjoining. Le Cross Associates maintain an indoor parking garage and rents parking space under separate lease agreements to individual tenants of both its residential and commercial buildings. As in Central Towers, the apartment lease and lease for the garage/parking space are concurrent.
Plaintiffs in the consolidated case are John F. Inganamort, Michael Inganamort and LaSala Contracting Company, Inc., a joint venture trading as Mediterranean Towers North and Mediterranean Towers South. Each building contains 483 dwelling units and is connected by a two-story garage containing approximately 450 indoor spaces. Surrounding the buildings there are also approximately 900 to 950 outdoor parking spaces, totalling approximately 1400 spaces, which are licensed for use by separate agreement to the tenants of either building. If the tenant requests one, and if there is space available, it is designated to the tenant when the lease is signed. The use of garage/parking spaces are granted by license rather than by lease.
The Fort Lee Rent Leveling Board charged Central Towers, LeCross Associates and Mediterranean Towers with violations of § 2 of Ordinance 74-32 (which pertains to the permissible percentage of increase in rent for any housing space) and for increasing garage rents above the level permitted by this rent leveling ordinance. The decisions of these cases have been reserved by the municipal court judge and have not yet been rendered. However, at all times during the effective date of Ordinance 74-32, and prior thereto, the policy of the Rent Leveling Board has been to include outdoor
or indoor garage parking space as within the purview of the rent leveling ordinance.
Plaintiffs in these consolidated cases are all owners and/or operators of high-rise apartment complexes in the Borough of Fort Lee who maintain that Rent Control Ordinance 74-32 of the Borough of Fort Lee does not apply to garage space and parking space. The question presented is whether the garage rents and license fees are included within the regulated rent increases. The court holds that they are under rent control when used by apartment tenants.
The case was submitted to the court on the basis of a set of facts orally stipulated in the record, and involves the interpretation of the language and the intent of Ordinance 74-32, entitled "An Ordinance to Regulate, Control and Stabilize Rents and Create a Rent Leveling Board within the Borough of Fort Lee." Neither the power of a municipality to pass a rent control ordinance nor the validity of the ordinance itself is here in question. The case before the court is the trial of an action in lieu of prerogative writs involving the applicability of the Fort Lee Rent Control Ordinance to garage/parking space areas, for which the landlords charge rent or a license fee to apartment tenants.
It is a well established legal principal that to determine the purpose and intent of a legislative body, the court will look to the legislative history of the enactment. If there is no legislative history, as is the case here, the court will then look to the preamble. The preamble to Ordinance 74-32 provides that the rent leveling ordinance was passed by the borough pursuant to its police powers to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens "with respect to the rental of housing space in dwellings by reason of the demands for increases in rent which are determined by said government body to be ...