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Alden Leeds, Inc. v. Town of Kearny

2005 WL 2738960 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

UNIFORM FIRE CODE; GRANDFATHERING — Grandfathering under the Uniform Fire Code does not exempt a property from the need to comply with subcodes, such as fire subcodes.

A company owned and operated a warehouse where it packaged and stored chlorine tablets. The company sought to alter its warehouse and applied to the municipality’s construction official for permission for the alterations. The construction official denied the company’s application on the basis that the warehouse did not conform with the New Jersey Uniform Fire Code (UFC) in that it lacked an automatic fire suppression system. The construction official instructed the company to install the suppression system which it failed to do. The municipality then issued a notice of imminent hazard declaring the premises unsafe and directing the company to install the fire protection system. Instead of installing the system, the company appealed the imminent hazard notice to the municipality’s construction board of appeals. The board denied the company’s appeal and issued a resolution requiring the company to install a fire suppression system in accordance with the UFC. In response, the company went to the Superior Court. The lower court affirmed the board’s determination and the company appealed further. On appeal, the company asserted that its property was not subject to the requirements of the UFC because it had been built many years before the Code was adopted and at, the time of its construction, it complied with the necessary requirements for fire protection. As a result, it contended that its property was subject to grandfathering protection under the UFC.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. It first reviewed the express requirements of the UFC to determine if the property was exempt. In order to be subject to grandfathering protection under the UFC, the following elements have to be satisfied: 1) the property must comply with the subcodes adopted pursuant to the State Uniform Construction Code Act (SUCCA); 2) the property must comply with regulations in force at the time of the building’s construction; and 3) a valid certificate of occupancy had to be obtained. The Court found that the company’s property did not qualify because it did not meet the first element, namely it did not comply with the subcodes adopted under SUCCA. In addition, the Court discussed the legislative intent behind the UFC, which was to require buildings constructed before the passage of the Code to upgrade their existing fire protection systems to protect occupants of the buildings, fire fighters, and the general public. It held that the company’s assertion that its property should not have to comply with the UFC because it was built before the passage of the Code was in direct conflict with the legislative intent behind the UFC. Accordingly, it affirmed the board’s decision requiring the company to comply with the UFC.

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