May 14, 2008
LAURA M. BURROUGH, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
BOROUGH OF BROOKLAWN, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from a Final Administrative Decision of the Department of Community Affairs, Docket No. OCA-446-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 6, 2008
Before Judges Parker and R. B. Coleman.
Defendant Borough of Brooklawn (Brooklawn) appeals from a November 15, 2006 Final Decision of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). That Final Decision adopted an Initial Decision of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that ordered Brooklawn to pay petitioner Laura M. Burrough (Burrough) $4,088.24 in relocation costs as a result of its displacement of Burrough because the size of her family exceeded the occupancy limit of the residence she leased from Brooklawn. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
Burrough leased a duplex, consisting of a living room, dining room, kitchen, three bedrooms and a bathroom, from Brooklawn under its Neighborhood Preservation Balanced Housing Program, a state-funded affordable housing program for Brooklawn residents. In September 2003, when Burrough first entered into a lease with Brooklawn, Burrough, her husband and their three children occupied the duplex. At the time she entered the lease, Burrough was pregnant with her fourth child, who was born in December 2003. In July 2004, Brooklawn renewed Burrough's lease. In July 2005, Brooklawn again renewed Burrough's lease. That same month, Burrough gave birth to her fifth child.
Prior to renewing the lease in July 2006, Burrough completed a required income verification statement, indicating that her duplex would be occupied by two adults and five children. This prompted Brooklawn to inspect the property. Upon inspection, Brooklawn determined that use of the home for seven residents would violate occupancy limits set forth in PM-405.0 of the BOCA Property Maintenance Code. In a letter dated May 8, 2006, Brooklawn informed Burrough that it would not renew her lease based on her violation of the occupancy limit. The letter also notified Burrough that the family must move out of the premises on or before June 30, 2006.
After receiving the May 8, 2006 letter, Burrough made several attempts to obtain relocation benefits, which the state makes available for the fair and equitable treatment and relocation of persons displaced by state and local government activities, including code enforcement. See N.J.S.A. 52:31B-2 to -12; N.J.S.A. 20:4-2 to -22. Burrough's attempts proved fruitless, as she was informed that Brooklawn did not offer such benefits. Burrough then filed her appeal with the DCA, which referred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing.
On October 19, 2006, the ALJ issued an initial decision, finding that Burrough was entitled to benefits because she was "a displaced tenant not primarily responsible for the code violation which caused her relocation." Accordingly, the ALJ ordered Brooklawn to pay Burrough $4,088.24 in relocation costs. In a Final Decision dated November 15, 2006, the DCA adopted the ALJ's Initial Decision.
Brooklawn appeals from the DCA's Final Decision, raising the following arguments for our consideration:
POINT I: THE NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS' FINDING THAT THIS MATTER WAS AN EVICTION WAS ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS BECAUSE NO FACTS IN THE RECORD SUPPORT SUCH A CONCLUSION.
POINT II: APPELLEE'S CONDUCT CREATING THE HOUSING CODE VIOLATION AFTER ENTRY INTO THE LEASE WAS PRIMARILY ATTRIBUTABLE TO THE APPELLE AND THE NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS ERRED IN GRANTING RELOCATION COSTS BECAUSE UNDER THE CASE LAW, THEY ARE NOT ENTITLED TO THEM.
We affirm substantially for the reasons set forth in the well-reasoned Initial Decision of Administrative Law Judge Patricia M. Kerins, which was adopted as the DCA's Final Decision. We merely note our agreement with Judge Kerins that Haddock v. Dep't of Cmty. Dev., 217 N.J. Super. 592 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 108 N.J. 645 (1987), is dispositive of the issue before this court. Like many of the respondents in Haddock, Burrough did not have knowledge of the code requirements and Brooklawn twice renewed her lease, despite its knowledge that her family was then in violation of the code. As a result, the code violation was not primarily attributable to Burrough, and she is entitled to relocation assistance as calculated by Judge Kerins.
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