Law School Case Brief
S. Burlington Cty. NAACP v. Mount Laurel - 119 N.J. Super. 164, 290 A.2d 465 (Super. Ct. 1972)
Under certain factual circumstances the Supreme Court of New Jersey has upheld zoning ordinances which require minimum interior floor space; which limit lot sizes for a single-family unit to five acres; which absolutely prohibit the construction of any additional multi-family units; which prohibit the use of mobile homes on an individual lot; and which absolutely prohibit all mobile-home parks from a township.
Plaintiffs were corporate entities, residents, and nonresidents who sought declaratory and injunctive relief against defendant township/municipality. Plaintiffs contended that a zoning ordinance discriminated against the poor. The zoning ordinance did not permit multi-family provisions and effectively failed to provide standard housing for low-income residents.
Was the zoning ordinance valid?
The Superior Court of New Jersey held that defendant municipality's zoning ordinance, which effectively deprived adequate housing for the poor and discriminated against them, was invalid. After reviewing the minutes of various township meetings and hearing expert witness testimony indicating that there was no standard housing in the township available for residents on welfare and no multi-family provisions in the zoning ordinance, the Court agreed with plaintiffs. The Court stated that the patterns and practices of defendant clearly indicated that, through its zoning ordinances, defendant had exhibited economic discrimination by depriving the poor of adequate housing and the opportunity to secure the construction of subsidized housing. Moreover, the Court found that defendant had used federal, state, county and local finances and resources solely for the betterment of middle and upper-income persons. The Court explained that the states are prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause from discriminating between "rich" and "poor" as such in the formulation and application of their laws. The Court also looked to other zoning cases, including treatment by the Supreme Court of the United States, as well the concept of judicial inquiry into the exercise by a legislative body of its police powers. The Court retained jurisdiction over the matter and instructed that it would not issue a final order until defendant had enacted new and proper regulations that would provide a sufficient number of low and moderate income units to satisfy the housing needs of the poor.
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