Who Says Babies Don’t Play Bocce? Law Division Rules On Age Restricted Housing Conversion

by: Gregory S. Ricciardi

With the continuing strain on residential development projects, some developers may seek relief in the form of a recent New Jersey law, which allows for the conversion of age-restricted projects to non age-restricted projects.  A recent opinion from the Law Division may serve as a helpful tool to developers seeking to take advantage of the law.

Heritage at Towne Lake, LLC v. Planning Board of Sayreville interprets and applies N.J.S.A. 45:45:22A-46.3 (the “Conversion Statute”), which regulates the conversion of age restricted units to non-age restricted units in development projects.  In this case, the Sayreville Planning Board (the “Board”) denied a developer’s application to convert a one hundred eighty-four (184) unit, age restricted community to a non-age restricted community, containing the same number of units, but configured differently. 

Pursuant to the Conversion Statute, the approving board has broad discretion to require the applicant to prove that the conversion can be granted  without substantial determinant  to the public good and will not substantially impair the intent and purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance.  The Conversion Statute establishes a set of criteria that applicants must prove, which include: (1) that the site meets RSIS standards; (2) recreation improvements and other amenities are revised, as needed, to meet the needs of the converted development; (3) water and sewer systems are adequately designed;  and (4) sufficient parking is available to accommodate the converted development. 

In addition to arguing that the applicant failed to meet the burden of proof as to the conditions of the Conversion Statute, the Board claimed that approving the conversion application would create a density violation.  Since the applicant received a density bonus for age-restricted development, if the conversion were approved, the Board argued that the project would require a (d) variance for density pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70d(5).  The court dismissed this argument, citing the plain meaning of the Conversion Statute, which states:

“No application for an amended approval seeking the authority to construct a converted development shall be considered a “use variance” or other “d variance” application pursuant to subsection d.  of section 57 of P.L.  1975, c 291 (C:4055D-70).”

The court ultimately concluded that the applicant had met its burden of proof and that the denial of the conversion application by the board was unreasonable.  The court remanded the matter back to the Board an ordered that the conversion be approved subject to the conversion of the originally proposed bocce courts to a “tot lot” for children.  

The Conversion Statute remains an attractive option for distressed, age-restricted development projects, provided the projects and the application for conversion can meet the statutory requirements, including a 20% set aside for affordable housing.    The publication of this decision helps shed light on the conversion process and eliminate confusion as to its application. 

You Got A Better Idea?!? Government Opens Suggestion Box For Ideas On How To Rent Out Foreclosed Properties

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

  The New York Times is reporting that the government is soliciting ideas for turning its glut of vacant, foreclosed houses into rental units that could be managed by private parties or sold in bulk  ("U.S. Seeks Ideas On Renting Out Foreclosed Property").  The goal of the program would be to "stabilize neighborhoods where large supplies of empty, foreclosed properties have hurt property values" and "clear the nation’s balance sheet of real estate holdings that, because they have been difficult to sell individually, have hung over the housing market and stunted sales of existing homes and new construction."  The request for ideas comes from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Treasury Department, and you can click here to submit your ideas.

As the article notes, the percentage of homes owned by the government that are currently in foreclosure is somewhat staggering:

Of the 248,000 homes owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the F.H.A. at the end of June, 70,000 were listed for sale, said Corinne Russell, a housing finance agency spokeswoman. The remainder were not yet on the market or the agencies had already received an offer from a prospective buyer.

But it is possible that hundreds of thousands of more homes that are now in the foreclosure process could come into the possession of the federal government in the next few years, housing experts say.

The government is now looking for a few good men ideas for how to deal with this crisis.  Among those already proposed are "rent-to-own programs, in which previous homeowners or current renters could lease properties as a path to ownership, and ways in which the properties can be used to support affordable housing."

If you have any thoughts, be sure to let us know when you let the government know.

Fair Foreclosure Act Does Not Apply When Borrowers No Longer Reside at Secured Premises At the Time of Default

by:  Matthew J. Schiller

New Jersey’s legislature enacted the Fair Foreclosure Act in order to afford homeowners “every opportunity to pay their home mortgages, and thus keep their homes.”  Amongst its safeguards, the Fair Foreclosure Act gives residential mortgagors statutory rights to cure defaults and requires mortgagees to notify mortgagors of their rights before filing a foreclosure action and another detailed notice before seeking entry of judgment. 

In Aurora Loan Services, LLC v. Einhorn, the Appellate Division concluded that the protections and requirements of the Fair Foreclosure Act do not apply if the mortgagors do not reside at the mortgaged property at the time of default – even if they did at the time of origination of the loan.    The Appellate Division interpreted the statutory definition of “residential mortgage” to have two requirements in order for the Fair Foreclosure Act to apply: (1) the mortgage must secure residential property that is occupied, or is to be occupied, at the time the Fair Foreclosure Act is to be applied; and (2) when the mortgage loan originated, the secured property must have consisted of four or fewer units, and one of those units must have been, or planned to have been, occupied by the debtor or a member of his or her immediate family. 

Accordingly, the Appellate Division concluded that if the debtor or its family do not occupy, or plan to occupy, the property when the loan originated, the Fair Foreclosure Act does not apply – even if the debtor resides at the property at the time of default.  Likewise, even if the debtor and/or its family occupied or planned to occupy the property when the loan originated, the Act will cease to apply if the debtor and its family vacate the property and convert it into a rental or investment property.    Therefore, if a debtor resides in another location at the time of default and provides no evidence of its intent to return to the mortgaged premises, the Fair Foreclosure Act, and the obligations imposed thereby on a mortgagee do not apply.   

Coming Up Short: State Funds Insufficient to Build Projected Affordable Housing

by:  Katharine A. Muscalino

Affordable housing in New Jersey has suffered its latest setback,  as the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has indicated that it will fall 8,000 units short in construction of affordable units funded by the Special Needs Housing Trust Fund.  Despite its expenditure of $168 million, only 2,000 units for disabled and homeless people have been constructed.  In response to inquiries from Senator Codey, the New Jersey Commissioner of Community Affairs Lori Grifa explained that “the reality is that $200 million does not produce 10,000 units, unless they can be produced for $20,000 per unit, which is an impossibility in New Jersey”  according to the Star Ledger’s article, "N.J. Sen. Codey Calls On State To Explain How It Spent $168M From Special Needs Housing Fund."  This may mean that the state and the New Jersey Supreme Court will look to developers more than ever to finance and construct affordable housing to assist municipalities in satisfying their fair share obligations.  It may also mean that municipal Third Round Housing Element and Fair Share plans, now stayed pending the New Jersey Supreme Court’s consideration of the Third Round Rules, will come under additional challenge to extent that those plans relied on public or municipal funding.