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Koester v. Hunterdon County Board of Taxation

Decided: March 20, 1979.

FREDERICK KOESTER, ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
HUNTERDON COUNTY BOARD OF TAXATION, RESPONDENT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Jacobs, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber and Handler. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jacobs, J.

Jacobs

The issue presented is whether the mobile homes in Solitude Village are taxable as real property within the contemplation of N.J.S.A. 54:4-1 et seq. The Appellate Division held that they are and thereafter this Court granted certification on the application of the mobile home owners. 76 N.J. 236 (1978). After argument and reargument we now affirm.

In 1972 Solitude Village, Inc. acquired a one-hundred acre tract of hilly wooded land in the Borough of High Bridge, Hunterdon County, which it proceeded to advertise and develop as "One of The Most Beautiful Mobile Home Villages in the East." It was specifically designed as a "permanent community" of mobile homes having all of the conveniences of modern conventional homes. Its original advertising brochure displayed model homes with basic prices ranging up to approximately $30,000 and it may be assumed that the prices are now significantly higher. One of the homes displayed contained as many as three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, dining and living rooms, along with separate study and recreation rooms. The brochure stressed that the following were included in the price of "the home": "Attractive, well built, wood porches and large size decks for outdoor dining and lounging; 2-car paved parking for your home and ample guest parking nearby; Attractive pole light installed in front of your home; Pedestal mail box, with your name, installed in front of your home; Luxury wall-to-wall carpeting with double foam pad; Electric range

and refrigerator; Storm windows and screens; Plumbing and wiring for washer and dryer."

Solitude Village has approximately three hundred home sites, one hundred of which are now occupied by mobile homes. Although the record is somewhat obscure, it may readily be inferred that once a mobile home is placed on its site it is intended to and does remain there indefinitely. At the reargument, counsel for the present owner of Solitude Village stated that he was confident that there had been "no recent withdrawals" and he doubted "very, very much that there have ever been any mobile homes actually removed from the site."

Before any units were placed in the Village the acreage was prepared to accommodate a large community of mobile homes. There was engineering planning which included the marking of lot and street locations. Thereafter the hilly terrain was graded, roads were constructed, sewer and water lines were installed, power lines were established and drainage areas were prepared. Each individual site required considerable preparation before it could receive a mobile home. The trees and growth had to be removed, the boundaries had to be established and the support or foundation had to be laid. Mr. Frederick Baier, the original President of Solitude Village, Inc., testified that one of three types of foundation was used. In the "runner type" there were long concrete slabs, with stone underneath, supporting blocks which in turn supported the chassis or I-beam of the mobile home; in the "piling type" the blocks rested on pilings in the ground; the third variation was substantially a runner type accompanied by a retaining wall.

Mr. Baier also testified as to the manner in which the mobile homes were placed on or attached to their foundations. The home was first disengaged from the tractor which brought it to the site and was jacked up to permit removal of the wheels and axles. A bulldozer was used to place the home on its foundation and then certain interior and exterior work was required. After the home's I-beam was placed on

the foundation the weight of the home was generally sufficient to provide stability; however, there were hurricane straps attached to the home which had to be secured to bolts embedded in concrete in compliance with a High Bridge ordinance. Plywood skirting was often installed to conceal the concrete blocks and the various utilities in the home were appropriately connected with Solitude's central system.

The homes at Solitude Village are single width (12 feet), single width with an additional room, and double width (24 feet). The double width homes were brought to the Village in two sections which were connected at the site. They were bolted together and the roof connection was sealed by an aluminum flashing. Double width homes, which may in their current models be as large as twenty-eight feet in width and seventy feet in length, have been growing in popularity in Solitude Village, as well as elsewhere. See B. Hodes & G. Roberson, The Law of Mobile Homes at xxxvii (3rd Ed. 1974). It need hardly be pointed out that these double width homes are intended to remain on site permanently, and that their removal by cranes or other heavy machinery would undoubtedly entail considerable difficulty and oftentimes considerable damage to the landscape. Insofar as the single width homes are concerned their removal would also entail some difficulty since in their current models they may be as much as seventy feet long and fourteen feet wide. Here, as with the double width homes, the intent that they remain on site permanently is entirely evident.

Early in 1975 the tax assessor of High Bridge submitted a tax list to the Hunterdon County Board of Taxation which did not include any of the homes at Solitude Village. At the Board's preliminary equalization hearing, assessors from other municipalities within the County objected to the omission and thereafter the Board directed the High Bridge assessor to place the Solitude Village homes on the tax rolls. After hearing objections from residents of Solitude Village the Board reaffirmed its action. As of May 1, 1975 the homes

appeared on the Board's certified tax rolls and thereafter the residents of the Village received individual tax bills. As theretofore Solitude Village, Inc. was taxed on the land, foundations, streets, walks, sewers, water lines, etc. This aspect of the tax assessment is not ...


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