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Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards v. Schneider

A-4004-06T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

ROOMING HOUSES — Where non-family residents of a building have discrete living space and shared access to bathrooms and kitchen facilities in exchange for a monthly fee, that constitutes a rooming house.

The Department of Community Affairs (DCA) enforced the initial decision of an Administrative Law Judge upholding a $5,000 penalty imposed by the Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards (Bureau) for operating an unlicensed rooming house. The owner had operated a residential health care facility that was permitted locally until inspection authority was ceded to the State of New Jersey. When the State requested that the owner install a fire sprinkler system, the owner closed the facility. Non-family residents at the facility were required to relocate. Remaining in the property were the owner, his family, and three former facility residents and a live-in maid. The Bureau conducted a jurisdictional status investigation, and found two common bathrooms and doors of bedrooms occupied by non-family members having dead-bolt plunger locks with key entries. Additionally, non-family members told the Bureau investigator that they paid rent monthly and the maid was given a room and paid $100 a week. The Bureau concluded that the property was an unlicensed boarding house. This resulted in the penalty. The owner appealed the DCA’s enforcement of the penalty.

The Appellate Division held that it had to defer to an agency’s statutory interpretation provided it was not plainly unreasonable. It noted the governing law entitled the DCA commissioner to pass regulations to ensure the protection and care of residents of rooming houses, boarding houses, and residential health care facilities. The Court observed that the statute was designed to protect elderly, disabled, and poor persons who need protection from building hazards and predatory neighbors, and was passed because of a number of boarding home fires. To the Court, this explained the State’s requirement for installation of a fire safety sprinkler system.

As on the facts, the Court concluded that the property afforded the non-family residents discrete living space and shared access to bathrooms and kitchen facilities in exchange for a monthly fee. It felt that such an arrangement fell squarely within the definition of a rooming house. In short, the Court was satisfied that the decision adopted by DCA was amply supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record.

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