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Herrera v. Township of South Orange Village

Decided: December 28, 1993.

RUFINA HERRERA, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF SOUTH ORANGE VILLAGE, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Final Decision of the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs of the State of New Jersey.

Muir, Jr., Thomas and Levy. The opinion of the court was delivered by Muir, Jr., J.A.D.

Muir

[270 NJSuper Page 418] Petitioner Rufina Herrera appeals from a final determination of the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. The Commissioner held that Herrera is not entitled to relocation

assistance benefits under either the Relocation Assistance Law of 1967, N.J.S.A. 52:31B-1 to -12, or the Relocation Assistance Act, N.J.S.A. 20:4-1 to -22, as those statutes are referred to by the Anti-Eviction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.19, and as they are implemented by promulgated regulations, N.J.A.C. 5:11-1.1 to -9.3. The Commissioner's determination accepted an Administrative Law Judge's decision that, to be eligible for assistance, Herrera had to be a lawful occupant of the third floor apartment in which she resided and that, due to the fact the apartment violated South Orange's zoning ordinance, her occupancy was illegal. The Administrative Law Judge refused to consider the issue of whether petitioner had waived her entitlement to assistance. We affirm the determination but for reasons other than those relied upon by the Commissioner.

The Legislature has determined several circumstances when relocation assistance shall be provided. The Relocation Assistance Law of 1967 provides "for relocation assistance payments to persons or businesses displaced on account of acquisition of real property for a public use, or on account of a program of law enforcement, or on account of a program for voluntary rehabilitation of dwelling units." N.J.S.A. 52:31B-4(a). The Law allows assistance not to exceed $200. N.J.S.A. 52:31B-4(c).

The Relocation Assistance Act was enacted in 1972 to provide "a uniform policy for fair and equitable treatment of persons displaced by acquisition of real property by State and local acquisition programs, by building code enforcement activities, or by a program of voluntary rehabilitation of buildings or other improvements conducted pursuant to governmental supervision." N.J.S.A. 20:4-2. This Act provides for a moving expense allowance not to exceed $300 and a dislocation allowance of $200. It also allows for replacement housing costs for tenants not to exceed $4,000.

The influence these relocation assistance statutes have on dispossess actions is set out in N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1g. When a landlord is confronted with citations for substantial violations

affecting the health and safety of a tenant, any subsequent warrant of removal engendered thereby is stayed pending compliance with the applicable provisions of the 1967 and 1972 statutes.

Petitioner reads all the statutory provisions to require relocation assistance in this instance. We disagree.

We are satisfied from our review of the statutes, the implementing regulations, and the explicating decisional law that petitioner, if she qualifies at all, is entitled to assistance afforded only by the Relocation Assistance Law of 1967. The Relocation Assistance Act, N.J.S.A. 20:4-1 to -22, applies only to those instances where a municipality displaces persons for building code enforcement activities, but not for zoning ordinance enforcement activities. Zoning ordinances are distinguishable from building codes. The former are enacted pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law, see N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 to -129, while the latter are governed by N.J.S.A. 52:27D-123.*fn1 Had the Legislature intended the Relocation Assistance Act to apply to zoning ordinance enforcement, it could have said so. Statutes are to be construed as written, not according to some unexpressed intention. Dacunzo v. Edgye, 19 N.J. 443, 451, 117 A.2d 508 (1955). Moreover, the words of a statute are to be given their ordinary and well-understood meaning. Fahey v. City of Jersey City, 52 N.J. 103, 107, 244 A.2d 97 (1968). We consequently conclude none of the 1972 Act's provisions encompass persons displaced as the result of zoning ordinance enforcement. See Haddock v. Department of Community Dev., City of Passaic, 217 N.J. Super. 592, 598, 526 A.2d 725 (App.Div.1987); McNally v. Township of Middletown, 182 N.J. Super. 622, 625-26, 442 A.2d 1075 (App.Div.1982). The language of N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1g does not expand the Act's scope.

On the other hand, the language of the Relocation Assistance Law of 1967 is less precise. It applies to "a program of law enforcement," a term the statute does not define. Thus, it is less clear whether ...


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