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Hills Dev. Co. v. Township of Bernards

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The constitutionality of the New Jersey Fair Housing Act is challenged.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The Fair Housing Act is constitutional, even though it may result in some delay in the satisfaction of the constitutional obligation to provide lower-income housing.

    Facts.

    In 1986, New Jersey passed the Fair Housing Act in response to the state supreme court’s decision in Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel, 456 A.2d 390 (N.J. 1983). The Act created the Council on Affordable Housing, which is empowered to determine the need for lower-income housing in different regions of the state and promulgate guidelines for municipalities in each region to determine their fair share of the housing. The Council then determines whether any given municipality has satisfied its obligation to have lower-income housing, and has various means available to induce municipalities to comply. The Council’s determinations can be overturned by a court only if there is clear and convincing evidence that a municipality has not constructed its fair share of housing. Municipalities that do not comply with the Council’s determinations in a timely manner are subject to judicial enforcement of their obligation under Mount Laurel to provide lower-income housing. The constitutionality of the Act was then challenged in court.

    Issue.

    Whether the New Jersey Fair Housing Act is constitutional.

    Held.

    Yes. The constitutional challenge is denied. The Fair Housing Act is constitutional, even though it may result in some delay in the satisfaction of the constitutional obligation to provide lower-income housing.

    Discussion.

    The Fair Housing Act is constitutional, even though it may result in some delay in the satisfaction of the constitutional obligation to provide lower income housing. Laws are presumed to be constitutional, and it is better for the legislature to fashion a solution to a constitutional problem than for the judiciary to do so. Legislative solutions enjoy a unique kind of legitimacy and can implement a comprehensive plan across the state rather than addressing individual cases. Additionally, the Council on Affordable Housing can administer housing issues more efficiently than the judiciary can. The challenge to the Act is that it will delay the construction of lower-income housing because the Council will take time to develop a statewide plan and allow municipalities to determine how they will come into compliance. The delay is acceptable as long as the Act is designed to ensure that municipalities comply with their obligation within a reasonable time. The Act is so designed, and it is appropriate for the judiciary to defer to the legislature’s judgment of the best way to ensure that there is adequate lower-income housing. If the Council proves unable to establish compliance within a reasonable period of time, the judiciary may intervene again to enforce the constitutional requirement of lower-income housing. The judiciary will not become involved unless the legislative solution fails.


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