Koester v. Hunterdon County Bd. of Taxation

Decision Date20 March 1979
Citation399 A.2d 656,79 N.J. 381
Parties, 7 A.L.R.4th 1004 Frederick KOESTER et al., Appellants, v. HUNTERDON COUNTY BOARD OF TAXATION, Respondent.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Dennis L. Riley, Lindenwold, for appellants (Riley & DiCamillo, Lindenwold, attorneys; Angelo J. DiCamillo, Lindenwold, on the brief).

Harry Z. Haushalter, Deputy Atty. Gen., for respondent (John J. Degnan, Atty. Gen., attorney; Stephen Skillman, Asst. Atty. Gen., of counsel).

Waldron Kraemer, Newark, for intervenor Borough of High Bridge (Waldron Kraemer and Joan A. Lovell, Newark, on the brief).

Daniel J. Matyola, Somerville, for intervenors First Nat. Bank of Central Jersey and Hunterdon Village Square (Wharton, Stewart & Davis, Somerville, attorneys).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


The issue presented is whether the mobile homes in Solitude Village are taxable as real property within the contemplation of N.J.S.A. 54:4-1 Et seq. The Appellate Division held that they are and thereafter this Court granted certification on the application of the mobile home owners. 76 N.J. 236, 386 A.2d 860 (1978). After argument and reargument we now affirm.

In 1972 Solitude Village, Inc. acquired a one-hundred acre tract of hilly wooded land in the Borough of High Bridge, Hunterdon County, which it proceeded to advertise and develop as "One of The Most Beautiful Mobile Home Villages in the East." It was specifically designed as a "permanent community" of mobile homes having all of the conveniences of modern conventional homes. Its original advertising brochure displayed model homes with basic prices ranging up to approximately $30,000 and it may be assumed that the prices are now significantly higher. One of the homes displayed contained as many as three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, dining and living rooms, along with separate study and recreation rooms. The brochure stressed that the following were included in the price of "the home": "Attractive, well built, wood porches and large size decks for outdoor dining and lounging; 2-car paved parking for your home and ample guest parking nearby; Attractive pole light installed in front of your home; Pedestal mail box, with your name, installed in front of your home; Luxury wall-to-wall carpeting with double foam pad; Electric range and refrigerator; Storm windows and screens; Plumbing and wiring for washer and dryer."

Solitude Village has approximately three hundred home sites, one hundred of which are now occupied by mobile homes. Although the record is somewhat obscure, it may readily be inferred that once a mobile home is placed on its site it is intended to and does remain there indefinitely. At the reargument, counsel for the present owner of Solitude Village stated that he was confident that there had been "no recent withdrawals" and he doubted "very, very much that there have ever been any mobile homes actually removed from the site."

Before any units were placed in the Village the acreage was prepared to accommodate a large community of mobile homes. There was engineering planning which included the marking of lot and street locations. Thereafter the hilly terrain was graded, roads were constructed, sewer and water lines were installed, power lines were established and drainage areas were prepared. Each individual site required considerable preparation before it could receive a mobile home. The trees and growth had to be removed, the boundaries had to be established and the support or foundation had to be laid. Mr. Frederick Baier, the original President of Solitude Village, Inc., testified that one of three types of foundation was used. In the "runner type" there were long concrete slabs, with stone underneath, supporting blocks which in turn supported the chassis or I-beam of the mobile home; in the "piling type" the blocks rested on pilings in the ground; the third variation was substantially a runner type accompanied by a retaining wall.

Mr. Baier also testified as to the manner in which the mobile homes were placed on or attached to their foundations. The home was first disengaged from the tractor which brought it to the site and was jacked up to permit removal of the wheels and axles. A bulldozer was used to place the home on its foundation and then certain interior and exterior work was required. After the home's I-beam was placed on the foundation the weight of the home was generally sufficient to provide stability; however, there were hurricane straps attached to the home which had to be secured to bolts embedded in concrete in compliance with a High Bridge ordinance. Plywood skirting was often installed to conceal the concrete blocks and the various utilities in the home were appropriately connected with Solitude's central system.

The homes at Solitude Village are single width (12 feet), single width with an additional room, and double width (24 feet). The double width homes were brought to the Village in two sections which were connected at the site. They were bolted together and the roof connection was sealed by an aluminum flashing. Double width homes, which may in their current models be as large as twenty-eight feet in width and seventy feet in length, have been growing in popularity in Solitude Village, as well as elsewhere. See B. Hodes & G. Roberson, The Law of Mobile Homes at xxxvii (3rd Ed.1974). It need hardly be pointed out that these double width homes are intended to remain on site permanently, and that their removal by cranes or other heavy machinery would undoubtedly entail considerable difficulty and oftentimes considerable damage to the landscape. Insofar as the single width homes are concerned their removal would also entail some difficulty since in their current models they may be as much as seventy feet long and fourteen feet wide. Here, as with the double width homes, the intent that they remain on site permanently is entirely evident.

Early in 1975 the tax assessor of High Bridge submitted a tax list to the Hunterdon County Board of Taxation which did not include any of the homes at Solitude Village. At the Board's preliminary equalization hearing, assessors from other municipalities within the County objected to the omission and thereafter the Board directed the High Bridge assessor to place the Solitude Village homes on the tax rolls. After hearing objections from residents of Solitude Village the Board reaffirmed its action. As of May 1, 1975 the homes appeared on the Board's certified tax rolls and thereafter the residents of the Village received individual tax bills. As theretofore Solitude Village, Inc. was taxed on the land, foundations, streets, walks, sewers, water lines, etc. This aspect of the tax assessment is not disputed and is not placed in issue by the parties to this proceeding.

The Borough of High Bridge, Solitude Village, Inc. and 57 individual home owners appealed the assessments against the individual home owners to the County Board which sustained the assessments. On further appeals to the Division of Tax Appeals the County Board's judgment was affirmed in a full opinion, which found that the mobile homes were "dwellings in every sense of the word," that they were "not readily adaptable to being moved about," that they "were installed and completed in such a fashion that it was never intended, planned or expected that these dwellings would be moved," and that they were "so integrated with the land as to be considered as real estate and taxable as such within the meaning of our real estate tax statutes." See Becker v. Little Ferry, 125 N.J.L. 141, 143, 14 A.2d 493, (Sup.Ct.1940), Aff'd 126 N.J.L. 338, 19 A.2d 657 (E. & A. 1941).

The Appellate Division affirmed the Division of Tax Appeals substantially for the reasons set forth in the opinion filed by the Division. In addition the Appellate Division expressed the thought that the determination that "these mobile homes should be taxed as real property" was not inconsistent with Nelson Cooney & Son, Inc. v. Tp. of So. Harrison, 57 N.J. 384, 273 A.2d 33 (1971). There the Court, in a case dealing with the power of a municipality to license a mobile home park and impose a monthly fee for each occupied site within the park, expressed the view that mobile homes "are not taxable, under present statutes in this state, as either real or personal property." 57 N.J. at 389, 273 A.2d at 35. The quoted language is undoubtedly too broad. It may be appropriate when sought to be applied to transient-type house trailers which have on occasion loosely been referred to as mobile homes. Cf. Manhattan Trailer Court v. Township of North Bergen, 104 N.J.Super. 405, 250 A.2d 156 (App.Div.1969). It would be inappropriate when sought to be applied to modern single or double width mobile homes placed on sites, either within or without mobile home parks, with a view toward their remaining there permanently as family dwellings. Cf. Bell v. City of Corbin City, 164 N.J.Super. 21, 395 A.2d 546 (App.Div.1978).

The early house trailers, which originated a half century ago, have been described as makeshift contraptions "not really fit for permanent human habitation." Bartke & Gage, Mobile Homes: Zoning and Taxation, 55 Cornell L.Rev. 491, 525 (1970). That they were then viewed as personal property can have little relevance when dealing with modern mobile homes, such as those at Solitude Village. These modern homes not only have all of the facilities of conventional homes, including sewage, water, lighting, heating and air conditioning, but also are more and more being constructed to look like and be used as conventional homes. As such they should, in all fairness, bear similar tax burdens. Bartke & Gage, supra, 55 Cornell L.Rev. at 520, have properly noted that "the ideal for any tax system is to treat equally those similarly situated." See Princeton Univ. Press v. Princeton, 35 N.J. 209, 214, 172 A.2d 420 (1961)....

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  • Robinson Tp. v. Knoll
    • United States
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    ...as with the double width homes, the intent that they remain on site permanently is entirely evident." Koester v. Hunterdon County Board of Taxation, 79 N.J. 381, 386, 399 A.2d 656 (1979).Transient use could be expected, if at all, only of mobile homes located in, rather than away from, mobi......
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