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Fabics v. Department of Community Affairs

A-4264-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

ROOMING HOUSES — A rooming house exists even when its individual rooms do not have locks because it is dispositive that a building is a rooming house where each tenant individually rents a room that lacks the elements necessary for independent living.

A property owner operated a rooming house. He was assessed with penalties by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for operating such an establishment without: (a) a valid license, (b) proof of local zoning approval; and (c) a certificate of inspection showing compliance with fire code provisions. The property owner appealed all three penalties and the matter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law. An administrative law judge (ALJ) affirmed the penalties. These findings were adopted by the Commissioner of the Department. The property owner appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed, concurring with the findings of the ALJ that: (a) each bedroom was the relevant dwelling space; (b) each room lacked the sanitary or kitchen facilities required for independent living; and (c) the tenants were unrelated to one another and had negotiated separate lease agreements. It also found that a rooming house can exist even when its individual rooms do not have locks. It held that it was dispositive that each tenant individually rented a room lacking the elements necessary for independent living. Accordingly, the Court held that the DCA’s determination that the property owner operated an unlicensed rooming house was reasonable. The Court rejected the property owner’s contention that the DCA’s interpretation and application of the rooming house statute was unconstitutionally vague. The Court noted that even if prohibited behavior is not susceptible to precise definition, a statute may be constitutional. It held that the legislative objective of the statute, to provide for the health, safety and welfare of all those who reside in rooming houses, was clear, unambiguous, and appropriate. Moreover, it held that the New Jersey Supreme Court had previously upheld the constitutionality of the statute by stating that a challenged statute would be construed to avoid constitutional invalidity if it is “reasonably susceptible to such interpretation.” Therefore, the Court held that the statute was not unconstitutionally vague on its face.

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