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AVR Realty Co. v. Cranford Township

December 01, 1998

AVR REALTY CO., C/O ROSE, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CRANFORD TOWNSHIP, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Before Judges Brochin and Kleiner.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kleiner, J.A.D.

[9]    Argued October 27, 1998

On appeal from the Tax Court of New Jersey, whose opinion is reported at 16 N.J. Tax 550 (Tax 1997).

Defendant Cranford Township appeals from an adverse ruling of the Tax Court relating to Cranford's assessment of plaintiff AVR Realty Co.'s property for 1995. We conclude that the Tax Court failed to properly construe a prior decision of this court, AVR Realty Co. v. Cranford Tp., 294 N.J. Super. 294 (App. Div. 1996), certif. denied, 148 N.J. 460 (1997) ("AVR I"), in which we invalidated Cranford's assessment of plaintiff's property for the tax years 1992 and 1993. AVR I fully analyzed the proper assessment procedure when the assessment for a forthcoming year implicates the Freeze Act, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-8. Contrary to the Tax Court decision, our review of the record reflects that Cranford's assessor followed the statutory procedure of N.J.S.A. 54:51A-8 in his assessment of plaintiff's property in 1994, and that his taxing procedure comports with our prior analysis in AVR I. We therefore reverse the Tax Court decision and remand to implement our decision in this appeal.

I.

Although the factual history of this dispute is fully reviewed in AVR I, we will reiterate some salient facts. In 1992, plaintiff's seven-acre property included a brick mixed-use complex comprising office space, a restaurant facility and a motel structure with 180 guest rooms. In October 1992, plaintiff was granted a building permit to construct a one-story building and to convert the motel into a senior citizens' assisted living facility. The new building was designed for use as administrative offices, a reception area, a dining area, and a lounge for use by the residents of the senior citizens' facility. Plaintiff's building permit application estimated the cost of construction as $1,102,325.

On November 4, 1993, plaintiff received a certificate of occupancy and immediately began renting the units to senior citizens. The converted motel was fully occupied by 1994.

In October 1992, at the time the construction began, plaintiff's property was assessed for the tax year commencing January 1, 1993, at $14,884,100. Upon receiving the 1993 assessment, plaintiff appealed its tax assessment. After a trial on June 2, 1995, the Tax Court entered judgment reducing the 1993 assessment to $11,170,000.

In October 1995, plaintiff filed a motion in the Tax Court seeking to have the Freeze Act, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-8, applied to the tax assessment for 1994. Defendant opposed plaintiff's motion contending that plaintiff's new construction and the modifications to its pre-existing building had increased the value of plaintiff's property. The Tax Court concluded that defendant's failure to file a formal complaint alleging a change in the value of plaintiff's property was a jurisdictional defect; thus, plaintiff's motion was granted. Defendant appealed the Tax Court decision. In AVR I, we affirmed the decision of the Tax Court; however, in our decision we concluded that defendant was not required to file a complaint alleging a change of value. Rather, defendant was not entitled to the higher assessment because it could not demonstrate that plaintiff's property had increased in value as plaintiff had not received its certificate of occupancy until November 4, 1993, after the October 1, 1993 deadline for increasing the assessment for the 1994 tax year. Id. at 301-02.

On October 24, 1996, plaintiff filed a motion to apply the Freeze Act to the assessment of plaintiff's property for the 1995 tax year. Defendant contended that, although it was precluded from raising the assessment on plaintiff's property for the 1994 tax year pursuant to AVR I, it was permitted to raise plaintiff's assessment for the 1995 tax year. The Tax Court concluded that defendant had failed to follow the statutory procedure and disallowed the increased assessment. As noted, we disagree and reverse.

II.

The Freeze Act, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-8, provides:

Where a final judgment has been rendered by the tax court involving real property, the judgment shall be conclusive and binding upon the municipal assessor and the taxing district, parties to the proceeding, for the assessment year and for the 2 assessment years succeeding the assessment year covered by the final judgment, except as to changes in the value of the property occurring after the assessment date. Where those changes are alleged, the complaint shall specifically set forth the nature of the changes relied upon as the basis for the appeal. However, the conclusive and binding effect of the judgment shall terminate with the tax year immediately preceding the year in which a program for complete revaluation of all real property within the district has been put into effect.

The purpose of the Freeze Act is to prevent "the repeated yearly increases in the assessed value of property, not related to or justified by any changes increasing its market value and resulting in harassment of the taxpayer, subjecting him to the trouble and expense of annual ...


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