On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
For affirmance as modified -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J.
[93 NJ Page 521] The sole issue here is the proper interpretation of the Rent Control Ordinance (Ordinance) of the Township of South Brunswick. Specifically, does the language of the Ordinance that exempts "housing units of two units or less" apply to owners of two or fewer condominium units in one building? In determining the scope of the Ordinance, we consider its language, the probable intent of its drafters, the reasonableness of our interpretation,
and the condominium conversion policy of the State as expressed in our statutes.
Prior to its conversion into condominium ownership in 1973 or 1974,*fn1 Carnegie Commons was a single story garden apartment complex owned by one corporation. It consisted of two buildings with a total of 36 units, 20 units in one building and 16 units in the other building.
By 1976, 10 of the 36 condominium units had been sold to individuals who became owner-occupiers. The remaining 26 condominium units were sold to one individual, John MacFarlane, who subsequently sold two of those units.*fn2
In late 1979 or early 1980, MacFarlane sold the 24 remaining condominium units to plaintiff AMN, Inc. (AMN), and during 1980 AMN sold 23 condominium units to 14 individuals. AMN retained one condominium unit. These 24 condominiums are the subject of the litigation. Each owner now owns no more than two units and rents his units to tenants.*fn3 AMN acts as managing agent for these owners with respect to the rental of the units.*fn4
In 1975 the Township of South Brunswick enacted a Rent Control Ordinance. The second paragraph of section 13-2 of the Ordinance specifically exempts from rent control "housing units of two units or less." From time to time the Township has amended the Ordinance, and in 1979 the Township specifically amended the second paragraph of section 13-2, but did not amend the language in question.
On or about January 1, 1981, AMN, on behalf of itself and the other owners, increased the rents for the condominium units without seeking the approval of defendant Township of South Brunswick Rent Leveling Board (Board). Certain of the tenants affected then applied to the Board for a determination of whether the Ordinance was applicable to the condominium units. The Board held hearings and subsequently adopted a resolution stating that the condominium units were subject to the Ordinance and that the proposed rent increases were, therefore, null and void.
AMN, again on behalf of itself and the other owners, filed in the Superior Court, Law Division, a verified complaint in lieu of prerogative writs and an order to show cause, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Board and against enforcement of the Board's resolution. Defendant filed a notice of cross-motion for summary judgment.*fn5 After a hearing, the trial court held in a letter opinion that the Ordinance was applicable to the condominium units, and thereby granted defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiff appealed. The Appellate Division in an unreported opinion reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case
to the trial court to enter an order precluding enforcement of the Ordinance against owners of two condominium units or less in a particular structure.
We granted the defendant's petition for certification. 91 N.J. 262 (1982). We affirm the Appellate Division's judgment of remand, but modify the terms of the remand to include a determination of the number of preconversion tenants and to adjudicate the tenants' status as protected tenants under N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 through .21 and N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.22 through .39.
Plaintiff does not contest the constitutionality of the Ordinance or its application to owners of three or more condominium units in one building. Rather, plaintiff claims that a condominium unit is a separate dwelling, like a single family house, and should be treated under the law as a separate dwelling.
The trial court focused on the physical structure of the building, rather than on the character of condominium units themselves. The court found that the language of the Ordinance was unambiguous and clearly applied to buildings containing three or more condominium units. Thus, whether a dwelling or a unit was subject to the Ordinance depended solely on how many units were in one building or were otherwise attached. As long as there were more than two units in a structure, then each unit would be subject to the Ordinance.
The Appellate Division rejected the trial court's conclusion that the text of the Ordinance was unambiguous and found the Ordinance unclear in its ...