Daily Development for Thursday, February 17, 2005
by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Elmer F. Pierson Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law
Of Counsel: Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin
Kansas City, Missouri
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW; EQUAL PROTECTION; MUNICIPAL SERVICES;; MOBILE HOMES: A municipality’s refusal to provide garbage service to a mobile home park constitutes invidious discrimination.
Barker's Trailer Court, Inc. v. Borough of Lakehurst, 371 N.J. Super. 432, 853 A.2d 348 (Law Div. 2004)
Owner requested a municipality to provide garbage collection for its mobile home court. When the municipality refused, the owner sought a court order compelling such service, claiming that the municipality's refusal to provide garbage collection constituted invidious discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause.
Owner acknowledged that a municipality is not required to provide such garbage removal at all. It argued, however, that once a municipality has decided to provide service to those similarly situated, it must do so for all within the class. It claimed that there was no rational basis to distinguish the mobile homes from any other residence that received garbage removal.
The municipality justified its refusal to provide garbage removal based on the fact that it was collecting real estate taxes only for the land and property improvements at the mobile home park and not for the individual mobile homes.
The court noted first that, mobile home park owners pay real estate taxes on the land and improvements within the parks and then pass them through to the mobile home owners as part of the rental fee. A report by the Mobile Home Taxation Commission noted that mobile home park owners provide many services that a municipality typically supplies to other municipal residents, including ground water drainage, snow removal, and the maintenance of common areas. Therefore, homeowners in mobile home parks use a lower level of tax revenues than comparable homeowners otherwise situated.
In addition, the court noted that the municipality had the power to charge mobile home owners directly for trash service. Most of the findings of the report by the Mobile Home Taxation Commission noted were incorporated into the Manufactured Home Taxation Act. In particular, the Act authorized the establishment of a municipal fee to offset services the municipality provides to homeowners within a mobile home park that are not defrayed by the taxes emanating from the levy against the land and improvements of the park. Therefore, the Court stated that the municipality could include the additional cost of providing garbage collection in its calculation of the fee.
Therefore, due to the municipality's ability to offset the cost of collection through the municipal service fee, the Court held that there was no justification for the municipality's decision not to provide garbage service to the mobile home park, and the refusal to do so constituted an invidious discrimination.
Comment: The decision is not unprecedented, even on DIRT DD’s. In The Woodhawk Club Condominium Owners Assoc. v. City of Mayfield Heights, No.1:97-CV-1759 (8/26/98) (unreported decision) (the DIRT DD for 10/9/98) (on the DIRT website - http://www.umkc.edu/dirt) an Ohio Federal Court found that a city had no rational basis to refuse to provide same level of refuse service to condominium unit owners that it provides to other taxpaying residents of city.
Comment 2: These kinds of considerations don’t extend too far. Cities routinely require new subdivision developers to provide all kinds of public infrastructure such as roads and streetlights, etc., even when such improvements in the older parts of town have been paid for with bonded indebtedness which will be retired with property taxes imposed upon those new residents just like the old ones who were the beneficiaries of those improvements. Life is unfair, but sometimes it will cut you a break.
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