Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 26, 2019

NJ Appellate Court Approves Condemnation of Mobile Home Park and Deed Restrictions to Ensure Affordable Housing

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

A New Jersey case decided in March upheld a township’s plan to comply with its state-mandated affordable housing requirements by acquiring a mobile home park and then placing deed restrictions on each of the units to ensure their continuing affordability. The court also upheld the township’s use of eminent domain to acquire the property after negotiations with the landowner fell through, as affordable housing was a public use and the township complied with all of the negotiation and compensation procedures required by the state’s condemnation laws. In order to comply with its fair share affordable housing obligation, the Township of Robbinsville developed a plan to acquire a mobile home park and then use a combination of deed restrictions and proactive marketing to ensure that the park’s 70 units would remain affordable. Although the township attempted to reach an amicable acquisition, the owners of the mobile home park were reluctant to cooperate with its negotiation requests and the township eventually commenced eminent domain proceedings to obtain the property.

In ruling on the mobile home park’s appeal of the condemnation, the court found that the township’s acquisition of the property was undisputedly for a public purpose. As a viable form of affordable housing, the court explained, mobile homes could be considered by municipalities in meeting their fair share housing requirements, and the township’s condemnation and deed restriction plan had already been specifically approved in related a settlement agreement between the township and the Fair Share Housing Council. The court also found that the trial court judge had articulated public use findings for the condemnation, rather than just relying on the prior decision approving the settlement agreement, and the justifications provided in support of the taking were “sound and supported by long-standing precedent.”

The court disagreed with the argument made by the mobile home park that because mobile homes are inherently affordable, the taking would not result in any increase in the number of affordable housing units. As the court explained, it was irrelevant that the township didn’t plan to add any units to the mobile home park because the deed restrictions would ensure that the existing units would remain affordable for at least 50 years. And regardless of the inherently affordable nature of mobile homes, the deed restrictions were necessary to prevent the mobile home park from being sold or redeveloped for another use. The taking was also specifically authorized under the New Jersey Fair Housing Act as a rehabilitation due to the township’s plan to make much-needed infrastructure upgrades and repairs.

The mobile home park was also unsuccessful in arguing that the township failed to engage in bona fide negotiations prior to resorting to an involuntary taking. To the contrary, the court found that the township had made numerous attempts to reach an agreement to purchase the property, while the mobile home park largely ignored the township’s invitations to negotiate meetings and failed to provide appraisal information requested by the township.

Twp. of Robbinsville v. Mercer MHC, LLC, 2019 WL 1332850 (unpub. NJ App. 3/25/19).

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