On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Approved for Publication October 28, 1996. As Corrected November 14, 1996.
Before Judges Dreier and Newman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Newman, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Newman
The opinion of the court was delivered by
Plaintiffs Grande Associates and Sherwood Court (hereinafter collectively referred to as plaintiffs) own apartment complexes in South River. Tenants of the complexes receive electricity from defendant South River Electric (SRE), a utility company owned by the municipality, the defendant Borough of South River. Prior to receiving electric service, tenants are required to complete a request form and place a deposit with SRE. Plaintiffs have either consented to the electric service by general authority given to SRE or by specific authorization for a particular unit. Electric service is then connected to the unit involved. There is no express contractual relationship between plaintiff and SRE. An unspecified number of tenants have accumulated unpaid electric bills. SRE has placed liens on plaintiffs' properties for electric bills left unpaid by tenants. A tax sale of the lien certificates was scheduled to recoup the amount of the unpaid bills.
Plaintiffs instituted actions seeking temporary restraints against the sale of tax lien certificates and a summary decision. Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, challenging the enforceability of N.J.S.A. 40:62-14 which authorizes municipal liens "against the property and premises where such light, heat or power is furnished." Even though the owner of the property or premises is not in a contractual relationship with the municipality or the municipal-owned electrical facility, the municipality has placed the lien against the owner's property or premises. In upholding the statutory lien authority, the motion Judge determined that water lien-decisions in Vreeland v. Jersey City, 37 N.J. Eq. 574 (E & A 1883) and Ford Motor Company v. Kearny, 91 N.J.L. 671, 103 A. 254 (E & A 1918) were sound precedents for permitting municipal liens against the owner of the property where water supplied by the municipality was furnished to the tenant. This principle was extended to the furnishing of electrical power to the tenants and imposing a lien against the property owner. Plaintiffs appeal. We affirm in a consolidated opinion.
On appeal, plaintiffs contend that SRE has no right to impose liens for plaintiffs' tenants unpaid electric bills. In support of this proposition, plaintiffs argue (1) that the court's interpretation of N.J.S.A. 40:62-14 is unconstitutionally overbroad; (2) that the enforcement of this statute is in derogation of the common law; (3) that liens entered against plaintiffs' property violate plaintiffs' due process rights; and (4) that N.J.S.A. 40:62-14 should have been read in pari materia with N.J.S.A. 46:8-21.1 (the security deposit statute) which limits the security that a landlord can legally require a tenant to deposit. We address each of plaintiffs' arguments in the order they were raised.
Plaintiffs contend that N.J.S.A. 40:62.14 was improperly interpreted to permit SRE to place a lien on plaintiffs' properties when plaintiffs were non-contracting parties, for the outstanding electric charges of their tenants, who did have a contractual relationship with the power company. N.J.S.A. 40:62-14 provides as follows:
The rates, rents, or charges shall remain, until paid, municipal liens against the property and premises where such light, heat or power is furnished, and shall draw interest at the rate of seven percent per annum from and after the time when they shall become due, and shall, in addition to all other remedies, be collectible in the same manner as arrearages of taxes.
The plain language of the statute expressly authorizes a lien against the property and premises where power is furnished when the charges for that power have remained unpaid. The interest rate is spelled out for the amount after it becomes due and the remedies include the collection of these arrearages in the same manner as taxes. We see no reason to go beyond the statutory language when the meaning of the statute has been so clearly stated by the legislature.
The Court of Errors and Appeals addressed a situation similar to this one in Ford Motor Co. v. Town of Kearny, (supra) . There the statute in question read as follows:
9. And be it enacted, That the rents for the use of the water which said water commissioners may supply as aforesaid, shall draw interest from the time they become due, and shall be and remain, until paid, a lien upon the ...