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Market Street Mission v. Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards

Decided: April 23, 1987.


On appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner, Department of Community Affairs.

King, Deighan and Muir. The opinion of the court was delivered by Deighan, J.A.D.


On this appeal we are required to determine whether the Rooming and Boarding House Act, N.J.S.A. 55:13B-1 et seq., applies to petitioner, a religious rescue mission in Morristown which provides, free of charge, food, shelter, and therapeutic programs for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. The Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs (Commissioner) held that the Act was intended to include non-commercial multiple residences such as that operated by Market Street Mission as boarding houses. For reasons stated below, we reverse.

In January 1984 the Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards (Bureau) an agency within the Department of Community Affairs (Department), inspected the Market Street Mission (Mission) in Morristown. As a result of its inspection, the Bureau issued a report noting a series of fire hazards in violation of Department regulations. The Commissioner ordered that violations be abated by March 9, 1984. Upon reinspection on March 12, 1984, the Bureau found that the Mission had not abated the cited violations. Consequently, the Commissioner assessed a penalty of $250 for each of 12 violations, and $50 for another violation, for a total penalty of $3,050. The

Mission filed an administrative appeal challenging the Bureau's jurisdiction and the Act's applicability to a nonprofit, religious corporation such as the Mission.

The matter was assigned to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) as a contested case. On January 12, 1985, subsequent to a hearing, the ALJ issued his decision determining that: (1) he had no jurisdiction to determine the constitutionality of the statute and regulations involved; (2) the statute and regulations are not unconstitutional as applied to the Mission; (3) religious institutions are subject to police powers of the State when related to the safety and welfare of the public; (4) the application of N.J.S.A. 55:13B-1 et seq. to the Mission is not an interference with nor prohibited by the free exercise of religion and (5) the penalty imposed was reasonable.

The Commissioner adopted the ALJ's decision but modified it by waiving the penalty on the condition that "within 30 days of receipt of this decision, the petitioner files an application for licensure, enters into an agreement with the Bureau to establish a schedule for the abatement of all violations and proceeds diligently to abate all violations directly related to life safety." The Mission did not accept the Commissioner's conditions and appealed to this court. We granted the Mission's motion to supplement the record with affidavits from employees and one resident concerning the Mission's purpose and programs and the effect of the Act as precluding the existence of the Mission.


The facts, many of which were stipulated before the ALJ, are substantially undisputed. The Mission was established 97 years ago and in 1933 was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation. Its purpose as stated in the certificate of incorporation is to foster

the spiritual, mental, moral and physical improvement of men, women and children by conducting a gospel rescue Mission . . . to minister to the spiritual, moral, mental and physical needs of men, women and children, by the proclamation of the message of God's Saving Grace through the sacrificial and redemptive

work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross and by supplying food, shelter, clothing and other necessary comforts to the poor and needy.

The Mission is tax exempt under the Internal Revenue Code. It is funded partially through profits from a thrift store which is manned by its beneficiaries. The remainder of its funds are donations from churches and individuals. No money is received from the State or Federal government.

The Mission is located in a three-story brick building in Morristown, containing sleeping and living facilities for about 50 residents who are housed in bedrooms in the basement, second and third floors.

It is a religious organization devoted, in part, to spreading the gospel to the underprivileged and others rejected by society. It is the Mission's belief that man's social problems and handicaps can be treated by attending to his spiritual, moral, mental, and physical needs. The beneficiaries of the Mission are persons who reside and eat at the premises, who are socially troubled, and who attend a program of rehabilitation which includes spiritual counselling and work therapy to overcome their social handicaps. The Mission, through its staff and volunteers, attempts to rehabilitate these individuals by attending to their physical, social, and spiritual needs.

The principle function of the Mission is the rehabilitation of alcoholics and in some instances drug addicts. Its clients are unemployed, homeless "street" persons, most of whom have no income. Upon entering the Mission, a beneficiary is required to live on the premises and to remain for an initial 90-day program. As a condition of residency, each beneficiary is required to comply with certain rules which require inter alia: attendance at daily chapel services and at least three bible classes a week; abstinence from alcoholic beverages, and participation in the Mission's theraputic program. The beneficiaries are not paid for their services because the work requirement is a part of the therapy program to restore their confidence and self assurance. Food, shelter and clothing are provided to the beneficiaries at no cost. There are no leases or any type of

agreements with the beneficiaries to pay any rent or consideration for shelter. In any event, most beneficiaries have no source of income and would be ...

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