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Township of Holland v. Conway

A-2291-96T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)

CERTIFICATES OF OCCUPANCY—A certificate of occupancy only verifies that a building meets construction standards. Therefore, it may be revoked if it is issued in error.

Homeowners contracted to have a house constructed so that a mother could live with her daughter and the daughter’s family. The lower level of the home, where the mother would live, included a kitchen-dining area, living room, bedroom and bathroom. Since the home was in an area zoned only for single-family dwellings, the municipality filed a complaint seeking to compel the homeowner to comply with the zoning ordinance and remove the downstairs kitchen that contributed to the house’s non-conforming status. The trial judge found that the separate sleeping and cooking facilities were in violation of the ordinance, but estopped the municipality from enforcing it because the municipality had already issued a certificate of occupancy. The municipality appealed, arguing that the homeowner could not rely on an invalidly issued certificate of occupancy.

The Appellate Division stated that the ultimate objective of equitable estoppel is fairness. It concluded that issuance of a certificate of occupancy is not the equivalent of zoning authorization; it simply verifies that a building meets construction standards. The Court failed to find any support for an estoppel claim because the homeowners did not detrimentally rely on the issuance of the certificate of occupancy. Since the municipality only required that the lower level kitchen be removed, the Court found no injustice to the homeowner in revoking the certificate of occupancy pending full compliance with the ordinance.


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