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Berk Cohen Associates at Rustic Village, LLC v. Borough of Clayton

199 N.J. 432, 972 A.2d 1141 (2009);

MULTIPLE DWELLINGS; MUNICIPALITIES — Even though a municipality provides only curbside pickup of trash for homes within its borders, and New Jersey law only requires municipalities to provide multi-family dwellings either with garbage pickup in the same manner as it provides to other residents or to compensate the property owner for the cost of trash removal, where curbside pickup is impractical, unsightly, and unreasonable, a municipality must provide dumpster service to a multi-family complex if such service is a more appropriate method of trash collection.

New Jersey law requires municipalities that provide their residents with trash pickup to provide multifamily dwellings either with garbage pickup in the same manner as it provides to other residents or to compensate the property owner for the cost of trash removal. Here, a municipality provided single-family residents with curbside trash pickup. It offered to provide an apartment complex with the same service. This would have required the complex owner to have the trash of its five hundred tenants moved to the curbside of the public road for pickup. The complex owner claimed that curbside pickup was impractical and unhealthy, and requested that the municipality either reimburse it for garbage pickup costs or provide for on-site dumpster service or curbside pickup within the complex. The municipality refused. The complex attempted public road curbside pickup, but discontinued the practice because it was, in fact, unsanitary and inconvenient. The complex owner decided to install onsite dumpsters and recycling bins for its tenants and paid for twice weekly removal by a private hauler. The complex owner then demanded reimbursement and sued the municipality.

The lower court found in the complex owner’s favor and the municipality appealed. The Appellate Division reversed, noting that New Jersey law provides that if a municipality chooses to provide trash pickup to its residents, it has the discretion, in accordance with its police powers in guarding the public health, to impose reasonable requirements governing collection and removal. It found that this municipality was not required to reimburse the complex owner for dumpster service or to provide such service to the apartment complex.

On further appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification and reversed. It held that a municipal trash collection scheme that requires all residents to abide by the same curbside requirements facially adheres to equal protection guarantees. However, even if the statute facially complies with equal protection requirements, its application in a particular case cannot be so arbitrary as to deny due process. In this case, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s finding that curbside pickup was impractical, unsightly, and unreasonable. This provided the basis for its holding that the municipality’s offer of curbside trash pickup lacked a rational relationship to the legislature’s goal of protecting the public from the hazards associated with accumulating trash. The Court noted that in order to overcome the presumption that the municipal ordinance was valid, the complex owner was required to show that the offer of curbside collection (as opposed to reimbursement) lacked any rational relationship to the legislative goal of protecting the public health from the dangers of accumulating garbage. The fact that dumpster services were a better option does not satisfy that requirement. However, in this case, the lower court had found that not only was dumpster service a more appropriate method of trash collection for the complex, but curbside collection was unsanitary, unsightly, and unreasonable. Based on that, the Court held that the municipality’s decision to provide only curbside pickup for the apartment complex lacked a rational relationship to the legislature’s goal of protecting the public health from the accumulation of trash. Therefore, the municipality was required to reimburse the apartment complex for the complex’s trash removal costs.


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