On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. SC-001049-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 1, 2010
Before Judges Sabatino and Alvarez.
This case arises out of a management company's removal of a car from a condominium parking lot, after the car owner failed to move his vehicle despite being asked several times to do so. Plaintiff Matthew C. Bielecki, the car owner, filed a complaint in the Special Civil Part against the management company, defendant Executive Property Management, alleging that his car had been improperly towed at defendant's behest.*fn1
Following a non-jury trial at which defendant's property manager and plaintiff testified, the Special Civil Part judge dismissed the complaint. The judge's decision was largely based on his credibility findings upon assessing the testimony of plaintiff about the events at issue, and the competing testimony of defendant's manager. The judge thereafter denied plaintiff's motion for reconsideration.
Plaintiff now appeals. Applying our limited standard of review of a trial court's factual findings, we affirm.
We briefly summarize the chronology of the events that are pertinent to the issues on appeal. Defendant is the management company for a condominium complex in Franklin Park known as Queens Square Condominium Association. As part of its functions, defendant is responsible for the common areas of the condominium, including the surface parking lots. Defendant oversees the removal of vehicles that are improperly parked on the premises or which appear to have been abandoned. The premises have 175 parking spaces, which include two spaces for each unit owner, plus additional spaces for visitors.
The condominium association has a legitimate interest in keeping its parking areas free of vehicles that appear to be abandoned, stolen, parked improperly, or inoperable. As noted in the condominium's rules and regulations, "[a]bandoned vehicles are both nuisances and unsightly additions to our parking lots which, as immovable objects, complicate snow removal, visually degrade the value of our community and are sources for enormous potential liability to the [condominium] [a]ssociation." These legitimate concerns are undisputed.
The rules and regulations further provide that "[n]o . . . inoperable, unregistered, or commercial vehicles (with the exception of vans and pick-up trucks) are permitted on the common elements by any [unit] owner." To implement that prohibition, the rules and regulations confer upon management "the right to arrange for the removal of said vehicles at the owner[']s expense."
Plaintiff Matthew C. Bielecki is a unit owner in the condominium complex. At the times relevant to this litigation, plaintiff was also the owner of a 1988 BMW 735IL sedan. The record shows that plaintiff left his BMW in the condominium parking lot for several months without moving it. By plaintiff's own admission, the BMW had a cracked windshield and an expired inspection sticker. Plaintiff had not driven the BMW for some time, apparently because he was recovering from back surgery and also because he was taking care of his ailing parents in South Carolina. In addition, defendant's manager*fn2 ,
Joseph Farinelli, perceived that the BMW had been left in a visitor's space, was leaking oil, and "looked like it had been abandoned."
At Farinelli's direction, a yellow notice placard was placed on the BMW's windshield in January 2008. The placard stated that the vehicle was "subject to IMMEDIATE TOWING, IMPOUNDMENT, and/or REMOVAL at the OWNER[']S EXPENSE," because it was "[n]ot permitted within the community and must be removed." A second such notice was left on the car in February 2008.
In his trial testimony, plaintiff acknowledged receiving both yellow placards notifying him of the need to move his car. In fact, plaintiff's receipt of the notices prompted him to call defendant's offices and ask for more time. According to Farinelli, plaintiff was orally granted an extension of ...