Township of Independence, NJ
Warren County
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
[HISTORY: Adopted by the Township Committee of the Township of Independence as indicated in article histories. Amendments noted where applicable.]
GENERAL REFERENCES
Brush, grass, weeds and debris — See Ch. 142.
Unfit buildings — See Ch. 160.
Land development — See Ch. 255.
Property maintenance — See Ch. 300.
[Adopted 11-12-2014 by Ord. No. 2014-07]
In conformity with N.J.S.A. 46:10B-51, the intent of this article is to provide for the enforcement of Township property maintenance standards and State Housing Code against vacant properties pending foreclosure.
A. 
A creditor serving a summons and complaint in an action to foreclose on a mortgage on residential property located within the Township of Independence shall serve the Municipal Clerk with a notice indicating that a summons and complaint in an action to foreclose on a mortgage has been filed against the subject property. The notice may contain information about more than one property and shall be provided by mail or electronic communication at the discretion of the Municipal Clerk.
B. 
The notice shall be served within 10 days of service of a summons and complaint in an action to foreclose on a mortgage against the subject property.
C. 
Within 60 days of the adoption of this article, any creditor that has initiated a foreclosure proceeding on any residential property which is pending in Superior Court shall provide to the Municipal Clerk a notice as described below for all residential properties in the Township for which the creditor has pending foreclosure actions.
D. 
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 46:10B-51a(1), the notice shall contain:
(1) 
The name and contact information for the representative of the creditor who is responsible for receiving complaints of property maintenance and code violations;
(2) 
Whether the property being foreclosed on is an affordable unit pursuant to the "Fair Housing Act";
(3) 
The street address, lot and block number of the property; and
(4) 
The full name and contact information of an individual located within the state authorized to accept service on behalf of the creditor.
A. 
If the owner of a residential property vacates or abandons any property on which a foreclosure proceeding has been initiated or if a property is otherwise vacated subsequent to the filing of the summons and complaint, but prior to the vesting of title in any third party, and if the property is found to be nuisance or in violation of any applicable state or local code, the local public officer shall notify the creditor.
B. 
The creditor shall have the responsibility to abate the nuisance or correct the violation in the same manner and to the same extent as the title owner of the property, to such standard or specification as may be required by state law or municipal ordinance.
In the event of a violation of state or local ordinance, the municipality shall serve the creditor with a notice that shall include a description of the condition(s) that gave rise to the violation with the notice and shall provide a period of not less than 30 days from the creditor's receipt of the notice for the creditor to remedy the violation or within 10 days of receipt of the notice if the violation presents an imminent threat to public health and safety.
If the Township expends public funds in order to abate a nuisance or correct a violation on a residential property in which the creditor was given notice pursuant to the provisions of § 380-4 but failed to abate the nuisance or correct the violation as directed, the municipality shall have the same recourse against the creditor as it would have had against the title owner of the property including but not limited to the recourse provided at N.J.S.A. 55:19-100.
A. 
Any person, firm or corporation who or which violates § 380-2 of this article shall be subject to a fine not to exceed $2,500.
B. 
Any person, firm or corporation who or which violates § 380-3 and fails to remedy said violation once notified by the Township pursuant to § 380-4 of this article shall be subject to a fine not exceeding $1,500 per day per violation.
[Adopted 7-10-2018 by Ord. No. 2018-04]
As used in this article, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
ABANDONED PROPERTY
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 55:19-81, defined as follows: Any property that has not been legally occupied for a period of six months and which meets any one of the following additional criteria may be deemed to be abandoned property upon a determination by the public officer that:
A. 
The property is in need of rehabilitation in the reasonable judgment of the public officer, and no rehabilitation has taken place during that six-month period;
B. 
Construction was initiated on the property and was discontinued prior to completion, leaving the building unsuitable for occupancy, and no construction has taken place for at least six months as of the date of a determination by the public officer pursuant to this section;
C. 
At least one installment of property tax remains unpaid and delinquent on that property in accordance with Chapter 4 of Title 54 of the Revised Statutes as of the date of the determination by the public officer pursuant to this section; or
D. 
The property has been determined to be a nuisance by the public officer in accordance with Section 5 of P.L. 2003, c. 210 (N.J.S.A. 55:19-82). A property which contains both residential and nonresidential space may be considered abandoned pursuant to P.L. 2003, c. 210 (N.J.S.A. 55:19-78 et seq.) so long as 2/3 or more of the total net square footage of the building was previously legally occupied as residential or commercial space and none of the residential or commercial space has been legally occupied for at least six month at the time of the determination of abandonment by the public officer and the property meets the criteria of either Subsection A or Subsection D of this section.
OWNER
Includes the title holder, any agent of the title holder having authority to act with respect to a vacant/abandoned property, any foreclosing entity subject to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 46:10B-51 (P.L. 2008, c. 127, Sec. 17 as amended by P.L. 2009, c. 296), or any other entity determined by the Township of Independence to have authority to act with respect to the property.
PUBLIC OFFICER
The Zoning Officer or other official designated by the Township Committee.
VACANT PROPERTY
Any building used or to be used as a residence, commercial or industrial structure which is not legally occupied or at which substantially all lawful construction operations or occupancy has ceased, and which is in such condition that it cannot legally be reoccupied without repair or rehabilitation, including but not limited to any property meeting the definition of abandoned property in N.J.S.A. 55:19-54, 55:19-78, 55:19-79, 55:19-80 and 55:19-81; provided, however, that any property where all building systems are in working order, where the building and grounds are maintained in good order, or where the building is in habitable condition, and where the building is being actively marketed by its owner for sale or rental, shall not be deemed a vacant property for purposes of this article.
A. 
Effective upon the adoption of this article, the owner of any vacant property as defined herein shall, within 30 calendar days after the building becomes vacant property, or within 10 calendar days of receipt of notice by the municipality, file a registration statement for such vacant property with the Township Clerk on forms provided by the Township for such purposes. Failure to receive notice by the municipality shall not constitute grounds for failing to register the property.
B. 
Each property having a separate block and lot number as designated in official records of the municipality shall be registered separately.
C. 
The registration statement shall include the name, street address, telephone number, and email address (if applicable) of a person 21 years or older, designated by the owner or owners as the authorized agent for receiving notices of code violations and for receiving process in any court proceeding or administrative enforcement proceedings on behalf of such owner or owners in connection with the enforcement of any applicable code; and the name, street address, telephone number, and email (if applicable) of the firm and the actual name(s) of the firm's individual principal(s) responsible for maintaining the property. The individual or representative of the firm responsible for maintaining the property shall be available by telephone or in person on a twenty-four-hour-per-day, seven-day-per-week basis. The two entities may be the same or different persons. Both entities shown on the statement must maintain offices in the State of New Jersey or reside within the State of New Jersey. The initial registration shall be valid through December 31 of the initial registration year. Thereafter, the owner shall renew their registration annually on or before February 1 of each calendar year as long as the building remains a vacant and/or abandoned property, with renewal registrations being valid for one calendar year.
D. 
The annual renewal shall be completed by January 1 each year. The initial registration fee shall be prorated for registration statements received less than 10 months prior to that date.
E. 
The owner shall notify the Public Officer within 30 calendar days of any change in the registration information by filing an amended registration statement on a form provided by the Township Clerk for such purpose.
F. 
The registration statement shall be deemed prima facie proof of the statements therein contained in any administrative enforcement proceeding or court proceeding instituted by the Township against the owners of the building.
The owner of any vacant property registered under this article shall provide access to the Township to conduct exterior and interior inspections of the building to determine compliance with municipal codes, upon reasonable notice to the property owner or the designated agent. Such inspections shall be carried out on weekdays during the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., or such other time as may be mutually agreed upon between the owner and the Township.
A. 
An owner who meets the requirements of this article with respect to the location of his or her residence or workplace in the State of New Jersey may designate him or herself as agent or as the individual responsible for maintaining the property.
B. 
By designating an authorized agent under the provisions of this section, the owner consents to receive any and all notices of code violations concerning the registered vacant property and all process in any court proceeding or administrative enforcement proceeding brought to enforce code provisions concerning the registered building by service of the notice or process on the authorized agent. Any owner who has designated an authorized agent under the provisions of this section shall be deemed to consent to the continuation of the agent's designation for the purposes of this section until the owner notifies the Township in writing of a change of authorized agent or until the owner files a new annual registration statement.
C. 
Any owner who fails to register vacant/abandoned property under the provisions of this article shall further be deemed to consent to receive, by posting on the building, in plain view, and by service of notice at the last known address of the owner of the property on record within the Township by regular and certified mail, any and all notices of code violations and all process in an administrative proceeding brought to enforce code provisions concerning the building.
The initial registration fee for each building that becomes vacant/abandoned during any calendar year shall be $500. The fee for first renewal is $1,000, and the fee for the second and third renewal is $2,000. The fee for any subsequent renewal beyond the third renewal is $5,000. All fees shall be submitted with the initial and renewal registrations required pursuant to § 380-2C. Neither the initial nor any renewal fee shall be subject to proration or refund based upon a change in status of the property to or from a vacant/abandoned condition during a calendar year for which the fee is applicable.
The owner of any building that has become vacant/abandoned property, and any person maintaining or operating or collecting rent for any such building that has become vacant shall, within 30 days thereof:
A. 
Enclose and secure the building against unauthorized entry; and
B. 
Post a sign affixed to the building indicating the name, address and telephone number of the owner, the owner's authorized agent for the purpose of service of process, and the person responsible for day-to-day supervision and management of the building, if such person is different from the owner holding title or authorized agent. The sign shall be of a size and placed in such a location so as to be legible from the nearest public street or sidewalk, whichever is nearer, but shall be no smaller than eight inches by 10 inches; and
C. 
Secure the building from unauthorized entry and maintain the sign until the building is again legally occupied or demolished or until repair or rehabilitation of the building is complete; and
D. 
Ensure that the exterior grounds of the structure, including yards, fences, sidewalks, walkways, rights-of-way, alleys, retaining walls, attached or unattached accessory structures and driveways, are well maintained and free from trash, debris, loose litter, and grass and weed growth; and
E. 
Continue to maintain the structure in a secure and closed condition, keep the grounds in a clean and well-maintained condition, and ensure that the sign is visible and intact until the building is again occupied, demolished, or until repair and/or rehabilitation of the building is complete.
A. 
A summons shall issue to any owner that violates any provision of this article or the rules and regulations issued hereunder and shall be fined not less than $100 and not more than $1,000 for each offense. Every day that a violation continues shall constitute a separate and distinct offense. Fines assessed under this article shall be recoverable from the owner and shall be a lien on the property.
B. 
For purposes of this section, failure to file a registration statement within 30 calendar days after a building becomes vacant property or within 120 calendar days after assuming ownership of a vacant property, whichever is later, or within 10 calendar days of receipt of notice by the municipality, and failure to provide correct information on the registration statement, or failure to comply with the provisions of such provisions contained herein shall be deemed to be violations of this article.