The opinion of the court was delivered by: Locascio
This case involves the unique circumstances of mobile home living. Plaintiff Garden Park Mobile Home Owners Association (Home Owners) is an unincorporated association of residents of seventy-two of the seventy-eight mobile home units in the Garden Park Mobile Home Park, located in Hazlet, New Jersey. Twenty-five of the seventy-two members have the distinct characteristic of owning the only remaining units in the park which are heated by oil, stored in above ground tanks. Defendant Garden Park Associates (GPA), is the owner and operator of mobile home parks in Hazlet and Holmdel, New Jersey. As the owner of a mobile home park, GPA leases space to those who own mobile home units.
In January 1992, GPA promulgated rules and regulations requiring all tenants of the park to convert their existing oil heating systems to natural gas by July 15, 1992. However, in a February 24, 1992 letter, the attorney for plaintiffs herein advised GPA that he represented:
the interests of the Garden Park Mobile Home Tenants Association, an association comprised of approximately seventy-two of the seventy-eight units in your Park.
In addition, I have been informed by the President of the Association, that you are prohibiting sales without a deposit of monies to insure that the heat will be converted. It is our additional position that this is a violation of N.J.S.A. 46:8C-3c, as an unreasonable restriction on the right of resale.
The Tenants Association stands ready to negotiate a fair and equitable lease and Rules and Regulations with you should you desire to enter into such negotiations.
The attorney for GPA, in a March 11, 1992 response indicating a desire to "maintain open communication with the tenants association," requested specification of the tenants' problems with the rules and regulations, "to see if we can come to some type of an agreement." Plaintiff's attorney's April 3, 1992 specifications of the tenants' objections to the rules and regulations included GPA's "requiring the tenants to convert from oil to gas heat (because) aside from the substantial expense that this would cause each of the tenants, I know of no law which permits the landlord to choose which form of heat his tenants may enjoy." As evidenced by plaintiffs' attorney's July 9, 1992 letter to GPA's attorney, a June 30, 1992 negotiation session failed to resolve this oil to gas conversion issue.
In November 1992, GPA changed the rules and regulations to require Garden Park tenants to remove existing oil tanks and convert to gas upon the sale of their units to prospective tenants (individuals who were purchasing units from existing owners). Plaintiff Thomas Longette, at one time, lived at 48 Garden Park Homes, in defendant's mobile home park. His unit has since been sold, but not before Longette was required to expend $1,200 to convert to gas and have his above ground oil storage tank removed as a condition of selling his mobile home. Plaintiffs, Home Owners and Longette, brought this action, contending that defendant GPA wrongfully imposed conditions upon the resale of the mobile home units in contravention of N.J.S.A. 46:8C-3(c), seeking declaratory relief, an injunction and damages. Defendant GPA now moves for summary judgment claiming that: (1) plaintiffs lack standing to bring this suit; and (2) the removal/conversion condition set by GPA is, as a matter of law, reasonable and within its statutory right.
GPA contends that Home Owners' claims should be dismissed because it lacks standing to sue as an unincorporated association in that it fails to meet the requirements of N.J.S.A. 2A:64-1, which provides:
Any unincorporated organization or association, consisting of 7 or more persons and having a recognized name, may sue or be sued in any court of this state by such name in any civil action affecting its common property, rights and liabilities . . . as if the action were prosecuted by or against all the members thereof.
Specifically, GPA asserts that Home Owners is not an "association" as defined by N.J.S.A. 46:8C-1 to -21, (the Mobile Home Park Act), specifically N.J.S.A. 46:8C-15, and furthermore, its name is not "recognized" so as to comply with N.J.S.A. 2A:64-1.
However, N.J.S.A. 46:8C-15 if not applicable to the within matter because the Mobile Home Park Act deals with the type of association necessary to give mobile home owners the right of first refusal to purchase a mobile home park when the owner of the park ...