Since the 1990’s when then New York City Mayor Giuliani got rid of the squeegee people in New York City, many municipalities have vigorously pursued code enforcement matters. Since the Honorable John F. McKeon was elected mayor in 1998, The Township of West Orange has pursued these cases with a cadre of young and talented lawyers at Trenk, DiPasquale, Della Fera & Sodono, P.C.
Most recently, these cases have led to certain appeals and affirmances before the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County. Specifically, two trial courts in November, 2016 and January 2017 have affirmed fines in excess of $35,000 concerning peeling paint, exterior mildew, and broken fences. In both cases, the property owner argued that the Township Ordinances were “unconstitutionally vague” and that the fines imposed “shocked the conscience” as excessive. Both claims were rejected.
Property maintenance codes are designed to ensure that standards of maintenance and norms are maintained. When one property is allowed to become dilapidated or unkept, an entire neighborhood is directly impacted. Additionally, a property that is not maintained, including a failure to cut the lawn, can become a breeding ground for vermin and other health hazards.
Next, if someone was looking for a property to burglarize or vandalize, an unkept property is probably a good candidate because it is likely the property is abandoned.
Next, when properties in the neighborhood become run down, it is highly likely that any potential buyer will devalue the neighboring properties or refuse to live near a dilapidated property. Thus, property values decline.
Plain and simple, quality of life matters and requires vigilance in maintaining properties.
Fixing peeling paint, picking up garbage and repairing fences are not overly expensive ventures. If the property owner involved had immediately abated the violations by investing in their property, then it is likely that the fines would have been negligible or non-existent. However, when a property owner is convicted of ten (10) violations during a thirteen (13) year period, it becomes clear that that property owner’s willfulness requires punishment and a need to deter others from similar conduct.
Plain and simple, if you are going to own real property, maintain it. It affects not only you as an owner, but everyone around you and the entire community. The result of not maintaining your property is substantial. The attorneys at Trenk DiPasquale understand the ramifications both from a governmental and property owner prospective. Feel free to contact the firm if you are faced with property maintenance violations or your neighbor fails to take care of their property.
by George P. Cornell, Esq.