Inganamort v. Borough of Fort Lee

Citation62 N.J. 521,303 A.2d 298
PartiesJohn F. INGANAMORT et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BOROUGH OF FORT LEE et al., Defendants-Respondents. FORT LEE HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION OPPOSED TO RENT CONTROL, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BOROUGH OF FORT LEE et al., Defendants-Respondents. CONTINENTAL GARDENS, INC., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BOROUGH OF RIVER EDGE et al., Defendants-Respondents. Justin C. HARRIS and Stephen Shilowitz, Executors, etc., Plaintiff-Respondents, v. MAYOR, etc., TOWNSHIP OF NORTH BERGEN et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Decision Date04 April 1973
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Arthur J. Sills, Newark, for appellants Inganamort and others (Clive S. Cummis, Newark, on the brief; Sills, Beck, Cummis, Radin & Tischman, Newark, attorneys).

Gerald E. Monaghan, Englewood Cliffs, for respondents Fort Lee and others (William V. Breslin, Englewood Cliffs, on the brief; Breslin & Monaghan, Englewood Cliffs, attorneys).

Richard E. Blumberg, Newark, for amicus curiae New Jersey Tenants' Organization (W. Dennis Keating, Allan David Heskin, Berkeley, Cal., and Carl S. Bisgaier, Camden, on the brief and of counsel; Richard E. Blumberg, Newark, and John D. Atlas, attorneys).

Sheppard A. Guryan, Newark, for appellants Continental Gardens and others and respondents Harris, and others (Lasser, Lasser, Sarokin & Hochman, Newark, attorneys).

Ned J. Parsekian, Hackensack, for respondent Borough of River Edge (Melvin R. Solomon, Hackensack, on the brief; Parsekian & Ferro, Hackensack, attorneys).

Peter M. Mocco, North Bergen, and Joseph V. Cullum, Union City, for appellants Mayor, etc., North Bergen and others.

Richard W. Kracht, Woodbridge, for amici curiae New Jersey Builders Association and others (Hutt & Berkow, Woodbridge, attorneys).

Robert Feldman, Matawan, filed a brief on behalf of plaintiff-intervenor-respondent Belfer Realty Associates (Wolfberg, Elgart, Schwartz, Van Sickle & Feldman, Matawan, attorneys).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


The single question is whether a municipality has the power to adopt a rent control ordinance. In the Fort Lee and River Edge cases the ordinances were upheld, 120 N.J.Super. 286, 293 A.2d 720 (Law Div.1972); in the North Bergen case the ordinance was struck down. The decisions followed upon different readings of Wagner v. City of Newark, 24 N.J. 467, 132 A.2d 794 (1957). We granted certification of the appeals to the Appellate Division before consideration there.

We must assume there is a critical shortage of the housing covered by the several ordinances here involved and that tenants, trapped by the fact, are being exploited. The judgments were entered on pretrial motions in which this factual premise was not challenged. Hence we have the naked legal issue whether the police power delegated to these municipalities includes the power to deal with the evil of inordinate rent arising out of a housing shortage.

There are three constituent questions: (1) does the State Constitution prohibit delegation to municipalities of the power to control rents in a period of critical housing need; (2) if that power may be granted, has the Legislature done so; and (3) if the State statutes vesting police power in municipalities do embrace this area, is the exercise of that power by local government preempted or barred by reason of the existence of other statutes dealing with the subject matter. These are the same questions presented in Wagner, supra, 24 N.J. 467, 132 A.2d 794, which struck down a rent control ordinance adopted by the City of Newark.

In the Fort Lee and River Edge cases the trial court read Wagner to turn upon the third question, that is, the existence at that time of a State statute dealing with rent control and preempting the subject, and there being no such statute today, the court found that Wagner did not bar municipal legislation. In North Bergen the trial court read Wagner to hold there was no grant of power to municipalities to deal with the subject. At the argument before us, counsel could not agree as to which of the three legal propositions was pivotal in Wagner.

We will consider the three questions in the stated order.


Home rule is basic in our government. It embodies the principle that the police power of the State may be invested in local government to enable local government to discharge its role as an arm or agency of the State and to meet other needs of the community. Bergen County v. Port of New York Authority, 32 N.J. 303, 312--314, 160 A.2d 811 (1960); 56 Am.Jur.2d, Municipal Corporations, § 23, pp. 87--88. Whether the State alone should act or should leave the initiative and the solution to local government, rests in legislative discretion.

There is a limitation upon the power to delegate. As Wagner pointed out, some matters must be dealt with at the State level. 24 N.J. at 478--479, 132 A.2d 794. For example, the law of wills or the law of descent and distribution may not be left to local decision. Nor could the State leave it to each municipality to say what shall constitute robbery or whether it shall be punished. The reason is evident. 'The needs with respect to those matters do not vary locally in their nature or intensity. Municipal action would not be useful, and indeed diverse local decisions could be mischievous or even intolerable.' Summer v. Teaneck, 53 N.J. 548, 553, 251 A.2d 761, 763 (1969).

But except for such subjects, the Legislature may invest in local government the police power to devise measures tailored to the local scene. The Legislature may decide to do so for sundry reasons. A problem may exist in some municipalities and be trivial or nonexistent in others. And if the evil is of statewide concern, still practical considerations may warrant different or more detailed local treatment to meet varying conditions or to achieve the ultimate goal more effectively. Thus in holding that a municipality may deal with racial 'blockbusting' notwithstanding the constitutional limitation upon the delegation of the police power, we said in Summer v. Teaneck, Supra, 53 N.J. at 553, 251 A.2d at 764:

. . . Blockbusting depends very much upon the local scene and varies accordingly in its intensity and hurt. Although the evil warrants the concern of the State itself, it would not be inappropriate to permit the municipalities also to wrestle with it. There is no inevitable need for a single statewide solution or for a single statewide enforcing authority. On the contrary, it may be useful to permit municipalities to act, for, being nearer the scene, they are more likely to detect the practice and may be better situated to devise an approach to their special problems. Then, too, municipalities may provide enforcement personnel the State has not supplied in adequate numbers and hence be able to nip an offensive movement with which a State agency could not deal until after the event.

And it is of no constitutional moment that local decisions will mean diversity of treatment within the State. Diversity is an inevitable incident of home rule, for home rule exists to permit each municipality to act or not to act or to act in a way it believes will best meet the local need. West Morris Regional Board of Education v. Sills, 58 N.J. 464, 477, 279 A.2d 609 (1971), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 986, 92 S.Ct. 450, 30 L.Ed.2d 370 (1971); Two Guys from Harrison, Inc. v. Furman, 32 N.J. 199, 231--232, 160 A.2d 265 (1960); Jamouneau v. Harner, 16 N.J. 500, 517--521, 109 A.2d 640 (1954), cert. denied, 349 U.S. 904, 75 S.Ct. 580, 99 L.Ed. 1241 (1955); In re Cleveland, 52 N.J.L. 188, 190--191, 19 A. 17, 20 A. 317 (E. & A.1889); Paul v. Gloucester County, 50 N.J.L. 585, 608--609, 15 A. 272 (E. & A.1888).

And the Legislature may invest the police power in local government in several ways. It may grant power without any restriction by way of stated standards for its exercise. Board of Health, Weehawken v. New York Central R.R. Co., 4 N.J. 293, 300--301, 72 A.2d 511 (1950). This of course is the usual format. Or the Legislature may limit the grant by specifying standards as it did in the case of zoning (the Constitution itself contains some standards with respect to delegation of that power, Art. IV, § 6, 2). Or the Legislature may itself fashion a detailed treatment of a subject, and leave it to local government (or to the local electorate) to choose whether the statute shall operate within its borders. See In re Cleveland, Supra,52 N.J.L. at 190, 19 A. 17, 20 A. 317. This approach was used, for example, with respect to Sunday closing in the statute involved in Two Guys from Harrison, Inc. v. Furman, Supra, 32 N.J. 199, 160 A.2d 265, and with respect to rent control in the statute upheld in Jamouneau v. Harner, Supra, 16 N.J. 500, 109 A.2d 640.

Whether the police power to deal with a subject should be granted without restriction or should be tethered in one way or another is for the Legislature alone to say. We know of no principle under which the judiciary may insist upon one technique rather than another with respect to any topic which may constitutionally be left to local decision. And the constitutional limitation we mentioned earlier with respect to matters which require statewide uniformity is equally applicable no matter which technique of delegation the Legislature may choose. So, for example, to refer again to the subject of wills and of descent and distribution, the doctrine which forbids the delegation to municipalities of the power to enact an ordinance upon those subjects would equally bar the Legislature from leaving it to the several municipalities to say whether the State statutes upon those subjects shall be operative within their borders.

If the foregoing views are correct, then the question whether the Legislature can leave rent control to local decision was decided in favor of the power to do so in Jamouneau v. Harner, Supra, 16 N.J. 500, 109 A.2d 640. There the State statute...

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