Sally Lafferty is a candidate for election to the board of commissioners in the City of Bordentown, County of Burlington. She is not eligible to run for that office, however, unless she has been a resident of the city for at least one year prior to May 9, 1989. Patricia D. Borden, the city clerk, doubts her eligibility and has filed this declaratory judgment action in order to resolve that doubt. This opinion, following a trial of that issue, concludes that Sally Lafferty is entitled to run for the office she seeks.
She and her husband John purchased a substantial dwelling at 20 Prince Street in Bordentown, New Jersey: their "dream home." The price was $242,000. The contract for the sale of
the premises was executed by them on January 19, 1988. They consummated the purchase on May 2, 1988 when the deed conveying title to them was delivered. On January 19, 1988, they owned two properties, their own home in Pennington and a second dwelling in Trenton. They were obliged to sell both of them in order to meet the financial obligations they were assuming in order to purchase the Bordentown dwelling. Both properties were therefore listed for sale promptly after they executed the Bordentown contract. On February 20, 1988, they applied for and later obtained a "bridge loan," permitting them to borrow enough money to complete the purchase of their new home in the event they were not able to sell their other properties. This was not necessary; the Bordentown contract was cancelable if the properties were not sold within 90 days. They decided, however, not to take advantage of this contingency. They were successful in selling the Trenton property before May; the Pennington home was not sold until June.
Sally Lafferty had no intention of running for local office when she and her husband decided upon the Bordentown move. They wanted to live in a small town environment, in a house they loved from which their children could walk to school.
Although the Laffertys acquired title to the Bordentown property on May 2, 1988, they spent most of their time in the Pennington residence while going back and forth between their old and new homes with some frequency. Sally Lafferty spent weekends in her Bordentown home and lunched there nearly every weekday since it was convenient to her place of employment. Furniture and bedding were moved from Pennington to Bordentown. Clothes were washed in Bordentown.
Title of the Pennington home was transferred to a buyer on August 12, 1988, and the Laffertys moved completely to Bordentown. Until then most aspects of their lives related significantly to Pennington, not Bordentown. Their children continued to go to the Pennington schools and to reside physically in the Pennington dwelling. John Lafferty was physically present
there nearly every day and Sally Lafferty was there every school night. She did not change the address on her driver's license and motor vehicle registration or register to vote in Bordentown until October. No request for the installation of a telephone in Bordentown was made until June; church allegiances were transferred from Pennington to Bordentown in November. Postal notices changing the Lafferty address to Bordentown were sent in August 1988.
Patricia Borden, the city clerk, testified that the city's water records showed the consumption of only a modest amount of water in the Bordentown property between May and August 1988, indicating that the use of the property was not extensive. Alexander T. Csapo, Jr., a Bordentown neighbor of the Laffertys, testified to the absence of activity around 20 Prince Street during the months of May and June.
The residency requirement at issue here is found in N.J.S.A. 40A:9-1.13. It provides in pertinent part that
no person shall . . . be eligible to become a candidate for any local elective office . . . unless he is registered to vote in the local unit to which the office pertains, and has been a resident of that local unit for at least one year immediately prior to ...